What are some differences between the movie and the book Schindler's List?

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The narrative in the film Schindler's List differs from the book in three ways: first, the film whittles down the scenes to the present and discards backstory; second, the film puts a priority on visual rather than expository storytelling; and, third, the film shines the spotlight on some of the...

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The narrative in the film Schindler's List differs from the book in three ways: first, the film whittles down the scenes to the present and discards backstory; second, the film puts a priority on visual rather than expository storytelling; and, third, the film shines the spotlight on some of the book's characters.

First, the film deals with current events from the very beginning in its candlelight ceremony opener and doesn't fill in a backstory on any of the characters (except as they tell about their life prior to the war). The book, conversely, provides a fairly standard biography of Schindler's youth in its first few chapters. The book goes into some detail about his early life, growing up in Czechoslovakia, and his years before the war. The film mainly shows Oskar as he is and how he changes due to his internal conflicts over what he observes under Nazi control.

Second, certain scenes in the movie are altered to emphasize visual rather than narrative storytelling. For example, the famous scene of the "girl in the red coat" from the film connects with the same character from the book and expresses the same sentiment, yet her story is told differently in the film. In the novel, the little girl's murder is directly observed by Schindler, which creates a tension and conflict within him. In the film, the internal conflict arises when Schindler and his mistress are riding horses and look down into the town to see people being herded into the Jewish ghetto. One of the people he sees is this little girl, in a red jacket, who will almost certainly die as she wanders through the crowd, with no one to protect her. It is a piece of masterful visual narrative that suggests death rather than shows it, and symbolizes life with its isolated patch of color in a red coat.

Third, certain characters in the film take on greater importance. One example is Helen (a Polish woman, born in 1925) who served as a maid to Amon Goeth. She is a minor player in the book but in the film she becomes a central character and a symbol of Jewish goodness and beauty. When she is brutalized by the vicious Goeth, her fear and powerlessness starkly contrast with the Nazi's violence and absolute power.

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Both Schindler's List (the movie) and Schindler's Ark (the book) are works of historical fiction, which means that they portray real events with real people in real places; sometimes dialogue may be made up or extra characters invented, but the gist of the story remains true.

The main difference between the movie and the book is that some events in the film had to be edited or removed altogether in the interest of time. In other cases, it made more narrative sense to make changes. For instance, in the movie, Schindler spontaneously kisses a Jewish worker during a party where German officers are also present. In the book, however, he kisses the woman in his office.

Another instance in which the narrative differs from book to movie is the story of Amon Goeth shooting prisoners from his balcony (as represented in the movie). Multiple sources have been quoted saying that it would have been impossible for Goeth to target people from so far away. So this is another example of how the Spielberg took liberties with the original book.

The book also has much more time to go into Schindler's early life under the Austro-Hungarian Empire and his teen years in Czechoslovakia.

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Films and the books they’re based on are almost always significantly different. Sometimes we find this to be a cause of frustration, especially if we liked the book. Because of the difference in the artistic attributes of the two mediums, it’s not possible for a film to cover the same amount of ground that a book covers—it would just take too long. Also, we have to keep in mind that movies are a visual art—the picture is more important than anything else, so storylines are often subjugated to the need to create meaningful visuals.

In the case of Schindler’s List, there are actually so many differences between the movie and the book that I couldn’t come close to listing them all here. I’ll describe the most striking difference that I found.

In the movie, the character of Stern was a very reluctant partner to Schindler. He didn’t trust him and did not want to help him start up a business. A large part of the dramatic structure of the film revolves around the slowly developing friendship between the two. In the book, however, Stern actually approaches Schindler about buying a business. He realizes early that Schindler is the kind of Nazi who might actually be willing to help to Polish Jews.

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