What was Amon Goeth's inner conflict in the movie, Schindler's List?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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This is probably one of the most intriguing aspects of the film.  Some have criticized the film as being one- sided in its depiction of Goeth.  I tend to see Goeth as a fairly intricate character.  No doubt, his cruelty and his evil are undeniable.  However, there is an ethical or a moral dimension that is brought out in his depiction.  He is shown to be struggling between embracing the better angels of his nature and the dark forces which so easily take hold and guide him.  There is a moment in the film where he and Schindler discuss what justice is and how the ability to pardon is what defines it.  In the very next scene, when one of his servants commits a transgression, Goeth "pardons" him instead of berating him.  Goeth then stands in front of the mirror, studying what it means to pardon someone, how his face contorts with an act of benevolence, and for a moment, both Goeth and the viewer fully grasp this moment, an instant where there is clarity and when Goeth might be able to embrace the good that is so needed amidst a world of evil.  However, this is temporary as he notices a hangnail or something on his figure and the very next moment is seen with him shooting at the boy he "pardoned."  There is a complexity to Goeth in his relationship with Helen Hirsch, his servant and the woman towards which he shows any possible notion of love.  In no way can Goeth be seen as a sympathetic figure.  However, where the film excels is that it probes into the nature of evil and what psychological dimensions are brought out within it.  I don't see the depiction of Goeth as simplistically reductive, but rather one where there is a level of conflict and complexity, as evil and the darker aspects of human nature usually are.

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