Explain how Steven Speilberg uses lavish costumes in Schindler's List to create not only a product of visual extremes, but also an explanation of human conscience.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Some of the best imagery in Schindler's List to illuminate the polarities of being in the Holocaust is through the use of costumes.  The finely pressed and tailor made garments of the Germans like Schindler and the Nazis are contrasted with the "striped pajamas" of those who were imprisoned by the Nazis. The elaborate dress and costume of the Nazis and Germans, complete with accessories and the ultimate in craftsmanship is contrasted with the condition of the Jewish people, some of whom made the very clothes their aggressors wear.  This helps to explain much in terms of the articulation of human conscience during the Holocaust. When Goeth meets Schindler for the first time and comments on the "sheen" of his suit, Schindler responds with the terse, "I would give you the name of the tailor, but he's probably dead."  Through this mere exchange on costumes, a telling fact about the Holocaust is revealed in terms of life and death and the position of power that determined both.

Costumes play a vital role in Schindler's characterization.  They also assist in the explanation of his own human conscience.  As Schindler sees the liquidation of the ghetto in the most direct and painful of terms, his eye is caught by the girl in the red petticoat.  She stands out in a world of black and white.  Schindler follows this girl throughout the liquidation, his eyes entranced with this red petticoat.  There is not much aesthetically lavish about the costume, but its deep hue of red in a black and white condition help to evoke much in both Schindler's view of humanity as well as what the Nazis are perpetrating in the Holocaust.  When Schindler sees the work camp being burned and eliminated, amongst the corpses is the red petticoated girl.  The petticoat is still red, but covered with a film of human ashes and the girl herself has been killed.  Through the use of costume, this moment helps to bring out human conscience being awakened.  Schindler's transformation takes a strong pivot after this moment.  The manner in which the camera captures the petticoated girl and Schindler's reaction is lavish in its evoking of human conscience.  It is at this point in which one sees how costumes play a vital role in the film's conceptualization of human conscience.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team