Charismatic, successful, and honorable—these descriptions would roll off of anyone’s tongue when asked to describe Oskar Schindler; and indubitably, throughout the film “Schindler’s List,” he has demonstrated a clear mastery of them all. But why is it that his character has always solely been defined by his successes, and nothing else? Why is it that his faults are so easily dismissed?
Throughout the film, we see Oskar’s reputation transition from being an exceptional businessperson to a righteous fellow, responsible for saving the lives of hundreds, while risking his own. He is considered a hero for placing the common good above greed, selfishness, and all of the other deadly sins known to man—or in other words, he is considered a hero for following through with his moral obligations.
And while I do agree that noble work should be rewarded, I do not agree that it overshadows all of his faults. I do not agree that the hero figurines we tend to idolize are anything close to being god-like, and that their intentions should not be questioned because they are somehow untouchable. Reputable characters are human, nonetheless, and fall victim to human nature, though that does not serve as an excuse for irrational behavior. Oskar’s questionable actions weren’t much thought of, as everyone simply accepted that he was a “player”—as if it is normal for powerful men to exert dominance over women, and expect them to fill submissive roles.
Power and masculinity—both vastly different ideas, but have somehow been intertwined in popular culture since the beginning of man. Often, the common perception is that to increase one is to increase another, like these traits are so simple that some sort of mathematical proportionality or principle can define them.
After all, fame, fortune, and females—that’s what masculinity is, right?
This twisted perception on what it means to be a man has been affecting the dynamic of gender roles, and subsequently the lives of both men and women for centuries across the globe. And is not just men who feel that they must exert power over women, and treat them like they are disposable in order to prove the extent of their power, but women have been making themselves small and disposable in order to cater to, and be desired by these powerful personas these men put on, thus affecting their lives socially, economically, and politically. This sociological tendency was shown throughout the entire film, but became particularly evident when Oscar kissed lines of eager, anticipating women on his birthday. But it is when he forcibly kissed the Jewish woman when his feeling of entitlement crossed a line—it was utterly revolting. The young girl simply stood there, taken aback, and waited for it to pass, illustrating how helpless and insignificant he made her feel. Later on, we see that Amon Goeth tries to justify this act of Oskar’s to the SS, claiming that if he had seen how beautiful the woman was, he would understand—as if a woman’s appearance should dictate how men treat her.
Now, this movie takes place during WWII, and while I do agree that those were different times, I do not agree that that alone serves as justification for such mistreatment and twisted norms. I do not agree that we should silence ourselves from speaking out about past injustices because things are allegedly different now. Because the truth of the matter is that if all of my peers were not sick to their stomachs at the sight of Oskar kissing more women than I can count within the course of 30 seconds, or when he forcibly leeched his mouth onto a petrified Jewish lady’s, or let his wife leave because he couldn’t commit to his marriage, but rather dismiss the entire thing as typical male behaviour—then it is evident that we haven’t overcome the past. It is evident that we are not even close.
Using power to belittle women and treat them like submissive subjects is not what defines a man, but it is rather the opposite; if one dreams solely of fame, fortune, and females in order to higher his prestige, his masculinity is as fragile as it comes.
So, Oskar Schindler—a great man? Depends on who’s asking.