Spielberg uses parallel editing, or crosscutting, a cinematic convention in which two or more concurrent scenes are interwoven with each other, throughout Schindler’s List. Parallel editing illuminates the stark difference between the hardships of the Jews and the comfort and optimism of Schindler and the Nazis in Poland. In the broadest sense, it demonstrates the powerful contrast between happiness and sadness. Two scenes in particular demonstrate the powerful impact of parallel editing that a linear presentation of the story could not have produced. In the first scene, Schindler moves into his luxury apartment in Kraków soon after the Jewish owners are evacuated by the Nazis and sent to the Kraków ghetto. In the second and perhaps most compelling example, three scenes are interwoven: Schindler celebrates his birthday, a wedding takes place in the Plaszów labor camp, and Goeth beats Helen Hirsch.
These expertly edited scenes leave an indelible impression on the viewer for several reasons. Early in the film, Mr. and Mrs. Nussbaum, under the watchful eye of SS officers, grab everything of value they can fit into a suitcase as they are chased from their luxury apartment and forced to join the Jews marching to the Kraków ghetto. These wealthy people are obviously outraged at their treatment. As they make their way to the ghetto, the scene cuts to Schindler entering the very same apartment seemingly moments after the family left. He tours the expansive, richly furnished apartment, admiring the luxurious furnishings and decorations. As he does so, the family arrives in the ghetto to find a tiny, dark, dirty room waiting for them. Sprawled on the Nussbaums’ bed, Schindler says, “It couldn’t possibly be better.” The scene then cuts back to the Nussbaums. Mrs. Nussbaum, with unconvincing optimism, remarks to her husband that “it could be worse.” Mr. Nussbaum responds, “How could it possibly be worse?” By interweaving these moments into a single scene, Spielberg forces the viewer to confront the bitter irony of the situation in which Schindler benefits from the Nussbaums’ misery. In addition, Schindler at this point in the film takes no notice of and has no remorse for the evacuated couple. The tremendous impact of his callousness is intensified in light of the family’s suffering.
Perhaps the most powerful crosscut scene in the film occurs when Schindler celebrates his birthday with a group of Nazis in a nightclub. Here, Schindler’s wantonness rises to new heights as he and the Nazis hold a party in the midst of the evil of the Holocaust surrounding them. But even in dire situations, a celebration proves that hope persists, as Spielberg shows us by splicing this scene with the wedding in the labor camp. But yet a third line of action is cut into this scene, its brutality contrasting with the hope and joy of the wedding and birthday celebrations: Goeth brutally beats Helen Hirsch in her basement room after attempting to seduce her. The contrast between Helen’s desolation and the happiness of the participants in the two celebrations forces viewers to confront the reality of the Jewish situation during the Holocaust, when violence and death were always just around the corner.
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