Sunday, September 30, 2018

Schindler's List

SPOILER ALERT! The plot will be discussed.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and disagree with Roger Ebert’s view on this film’s main character, Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson). Ebert says in his book, The Great Movies, that Schindler is a con man, and I totally agree with that. He fools everyone by walking around like he owns the place wherever he is, and convincing others that he knows what he is doing. As he tells his Jewish business manager, Itzhak Stern (Sir Ben Kingsley), he doesn’t know anything about running a business. He is there to make sure the company has, “a certain panache. That’s what I’m good at. Not the work, not the work. The presentation.” But Ebert says that Schindler is conning everyone, including the audience, from the start, and that his real agenda was always to save Jewish people. There is too much in the story that shows he comes to that commitment in time, otherwise I think the story would be cheapened because it would not show his personal growth. Schindler is a true existential character, in the philosophical sense. For him, existence precedes essence. That is, his actions come first and they in turn create meaning in his life. Through his interaction with the Nazis and the Jewish people he encounters he moves from being an opportunistic businessman to becoming an unlikely savior for many Polish Jews.

I agree with Ebert that director Steven Spielberg’s film tackles the hugeness of the Holocaust by focusing on how the two German characters of Schindler and Amon Goeth (Ralph Fiennes) respond to their country’s actions during World War II in Krakow, Poland. The war allows the opportunity for these two men to indulge their own particular selfish desires. The brutal Nazi dictatorship allows evil to flourish as it legitimizes horrible actions, and the tyranny at the top of the hierarchy empowers psychopaths down the chain of command, like Goeth. In contrast, Schindler’s inner decency emerges as it confronts racist brutality, and he changes, rising above his baser greedy instincts.
The Sabbath ceremony at the beginning is in color, and we see the smoke from the burnt out candlewick rising upward. We then cut to the black vapors coming from the smokestack of the train that will carry Jews to concentration camps (their numbers “concentrated” together from the outlying areas to control them, use them for labor, and to exterminate them). Spielberg said the candle image foreshadows how the reverential ritual will be desecrated later when we see the smoke coming from the ovens that cremated the Jewish bodies at places like Auschwitz. The color at the station changes to black and white. On the one hand, this technique creates an old time documentary feel, and its harshness fosters the need to face reality. The black and white presentation also thematically can suggest that we are witnessing the fight of good versus evil. Compared to early cinema, the use of color actually now produces a more realistic appearance to what is seen. So in a way, the black and white look seems dated, more unreal, which creates an element of distancing to soften the blow of the horrors of what we are witnessing. It can allow the audience to observe a bit more objectively, and absorb what they have seen.

The film begins in 1939 after Germany defeated Poland in two weeks. 10,000 Jews arrived in Krakow daily, and Jewish families are being registered for relocation, as their names have been placed on lists. There are many lists in the film, mostly the Nazi ones, used to identify, use, and exterminate the Jews, until we finally get to Schindler’s list toward the end of the movie. There is a cut to Schindler, looking affluent in comparison to the Jews being inventoried. He flashes cash, wears nice clothes, drinks alcohol, and smokes. The camera angle is upward to mirror the elevated status and high opinion of himself that he wants to project as he sits in an elegant restaurant with classical music playing in the background. Schindler observes the beautiful women and the men wearing Nazi uniforms. He sports a swastika pin on his suit jacket lapel, not because he is pro-Nazi, but to ingratiate himself with the Third Reich officials in order to exploit the situation. He tells the waiter to bring drinks to the visitors. He says tell them “they are from me.” His anonymous generosity makes the others curious, wanting to find out more about him. He is sort of like a spider spreading out his web to capture his prey. First a subordinate is sent over to gather information, but when Schindler has him sit down, the higher ranking officer must follow. Schindler is charming and the number wanting to join the party swells. Schindler’s sophistication is obvious, as he suggests the names of several wine vintages. (It is interesting that he rejects the German Riesling, and wants French wines, which can foreshadow his future alienation from Germany, or, if you agree with Ebert’s assessment, shows how he is anti-Germany from the start). He ingratiates himself as the alcohol flows and singing begins. He gets pictures taken with the high ranking officials, which he can later use to show his connections to powerful people. Meanwhile we hear some of the Nazis talking about how the Jews must now wear the Star of David, and they contribute to the stereotype about Jews and money by saying that the Jewish tailors are profiting by producing the labels, suggesting they are cashing in on the persecution of their own people. One soldier says how the Jews have survived throughout history. But another, reflecting how the Nazi propaganda campaign has convinced Germans that they are the superior race, boasts when he says getting past the SS is tougher than lasting out the Romans.

Spielberg emphasizes how the Germans are living the indulgent life by contrasting the celebrating singing soldiers with the music sung by the Polish Jews as they cling to each other while being herded like cattle. There is the Jewish Council that has twenty-four elected Jews. It is a sham since the Germans use the members as intermediaries, allowing them to be collaborators to carry out the Nazi agenda by drawing up lists (that word again) involving work details, housing, and food supplies. Supposedly a place to hear complaints, it was a way to fend off resistance to Nazi orders. The Nazis confiscate belongings and homes and, thus, take over the lives of the Jewish residents, making them ghosts in their own country.
Schindler, displaying his domineering persona (the camera again shooting upward emphasizing the effect), goes to the Jewish Council demanding Stern, who Schindler knows was an accountant for a company that made pots and pans. Schindler wants to alter that business by getting Army contracts so he can manufacture field and mess kits, and basically cash in on the war effort. He tells Stern that his father said to him that he would need three things in life: a good doctor; a forgiving priest; and a clever accountant. Schindler says he had no need for the first two, but wants the third, which shows his main interest is in making money. Schindler admits he can deal with the paperwork, but he needs investment money, which he hopes to obtain from Jews that Stern knows. Stern says, in quite an understatement, that his people have other concerns now. Besides, Jews can no longer own businesses. But Schindler says he can pay investors in merchandise that they can use on the black market or generally to barter. He says Stern can run the business and argues that both sides will profit. At first Stern says nobody he knows would be interested, but Schindler says they should be, because he sees the horror coming.

Some Jewish men meet, ironically, in a Catholic church to discuss black market opportunities. Ironic because of the conflicting religious presences in the scene, but also because of the illegal purpose of the meeting in a holy setting. It is also ironic that these Jewish men are making money off of their persecutors by selling them supplies, but they are also helping the Germans in a way by providing them goods. Schindler knows about this meeting place and insinuates himself into their group. Schindler has no allegiance to either side at this point, only to himself. He needs materials for the factory, so he makes it known he wants to do business with these men.
The Warsaw Jews and those from the surrounding areas are to be walled into a ghetto of only sixteen square blocks. People on foot proceed as they are jammed together while heading to the confined area. The Jews take some valuables and photos with them as they are evacuated from their homes. One man is seen removing a mezuzah from his door frame, a reminder of God’s presence, which may be hard to imagine given the terrifying events taking place. They are harassed as they go by, even by children. Schindler himself profits from the relocation as he takes possession of one of the nicer homes and says how could things be better. In contrast to Schindler’s good fortune, we have a cut to a Jewish woman saying it could be worse, while her angry husband asks how could that be? He quickly finds out how as many more people are jammed into the living space with them. To show the varying ways individuals deal with this terrible situation, we see a Jewish collaborator saying he is making the best of it, is getting good money, and could put in a good word with his superiors for a friend and his wife. They, on the other hand, can’t imagine selling out to the enemy, and they scoff at the collaborator, telling him he looks like a clown in his Nazi stooge outfit.
Stern does make overtures to Jewish investors. They want a percentage of Schindler’s profits. Schindler correctly tells them that goods, not money, will be the best form of payment for them, since they will be excluded from utilizing currency. He says there will be no contract between them, because there is no court which would uphold it for them, again hammering home the dire realism in the new world order. He is a pragmatist, and he knows how to make the situation work for him. Schindler keeps sipping his booze, and he offers some to Stern, who refuses, because he feels he has made a bargain with the devil in order to help Jews acquire some goods to trade. Stern tells Schindler that the wages he would pay a Jew in his factory goes to the SS, and the Poles get a higher wage than the Jews and the salary goes directly to them. It is only logical to Schindler that it is cheaper just to have Jews work in his factory.

Stern runs with Schindler’s desire to have only Jewish workers and lets other Jews know about his plans. One plus is that the factory is outside the ghetto, so they can trade with non-Jewish Poles for goods that are not found in the walled part of the city. We again see how different people try to function given the terrible circumstances. The Jews realize they need some kind of skill to trade so as not to become victims. If they can’t bargain on this basis, some talk of hiding. One woman says she will not hide like an animal. A musician among the group has little to offer in tangible practicality. One man who teaches history and literature is not considered “essential,” since being Jewish disqualifies him from using his intangible refined cultural skills. People like him are stripped of what was their worthwhile purpose and passion in life.

Schindler’s desire for satisfying himself is evident in his womanizing. He likes to be around beautiful women so when an attractive girl is interviewing for a typing job he doesn’t care that she is slow. But, when Stern has an older, overweight efficient Jewish female trying for the position, Schindler looks away, smoking his cigarette unhappily. Schindler orders Cuban cigars, cigarettes, caviar, fruits, chocolate, cognac, champagne, etc. from the black market to wine and dine the German elite. He sends bids for military contracts with bribes, and attaches photos of him with important Germans to add political weight to his offers. He gets the contracts, and the company starts to flourish. Schindler says he couldn’t have done it without Stern. He again wants to have a drink with the accountant, but Stern still looks like he wants no closeness with his boss.
Schindler’s wife, Emilie (Caroline Goodall) shows up when her husband is with another woman. Schindler has the gall to say that Emilie would like her. Through their conversations, we learn that he has left his town where presumably his wife still lives, and they are separated. They go out to dinner, and Schindler boasts that his father only had fifty employees, and he already has three hundred and fifty. He talks about starting with nothing and now will become wealthy. His other endeavors failed but the opportunities that “war” offers will make him successful this time. Ironically, he says he always wanted his name to be remembered for doing something “extraordinary.” He thinks it will be in the business world, but instead it will be through being a humanitarian. She asks if she should stay. He says it’s up to her, so he exhibits no enthusiasm for having her remain in Krakow. Because he had so many different women at his place, the doorman wasn’t sure who his wife was. Emilie says that in the future if no other woman will be mistaken for his wife, then she will stay. We cut to her leaving on a train, which shows Schindler can’t commit at this point to even being loyal to his wife.

Schindler just wants to enjoy his spoils as he eats a fine meal and hears that business will continue to do well without him having to deal with any work details. A machinist wants to thank him personally for letting him work in the factory so he can escape Nazi brutality. The man has only one arm and says the SS beat him and would have killed him if it wasn’t for Schindler. He says that Schindler is a “good man” and says as he believes that he saved his life, ending with “God bless you.” Schindler is polite but doesn’t want to hear how caring he is because he is just in it for the money. Perhaps, underneath, this display of gratitude starts to make him feel guilty that his actions were not meant to be altruistic. Schindler tells Stern never to allow a confrontation like that to happen again. He questions the usefulness of a one-armed man, but Stern has become an opportunist, like Schindler, in his own way, only his goal is to save Jews.

Soldiers stop the Jewish workers on their way to the factory in order to make them shovel snow, which, as a Nazi official says, was mostly symbolic to show submission. They take the one-armed man and shoot him, saying he is not an “essential” worker because he can’t perform the trivial task of shoveling snow. In the Nazi mind, there is no reason for him to exist. His dead body lies on the ground, his blood staining the snow, symbolizing innocence being desecrated. Schindler complains that he has lost a full day of production due to the use of his workers. When the Nazi official questions the usefulness of a one-armed machinist, Schindler pays the man a tribute by saying he was “quite skilled.” It is a turning point for Schindler as he shows respect for an individual for which he previously showed no concern.

In the middle of having sex, Schindler is interrupted by one of the black market dealers who tells him that Stern has been picked up to go on one of the death trains. This scene shows how Schindler’s personal pleasures now must give way to concerns about another. He takes the names of the condescending officials at the station and bullies them by saying they will be on their way to southern Russia soon if they don’t help him get his business manager off of the train. The person in charge says it doesn’t matter which Jew is on the train, it’s just the “inconvenience of the list.”  He says, “It’s paperwork,” which is all these lives mean to them as they have been reduced to entries on an inventory sheet that must be checked off. The Nazis use lists to efficiently destroy the lives of Jews and others. Eventually, Schindler will reverse the use of the list, as his will be a list for life to counter the Nazi death lists. As it turns out Stern forgot his work papers and was swept up by the military. At this point, Schindler still shows a public image that is self-serving, saying what if he showed up five minutes later, “then where would I be?”
There is a scene that shows how all the belongings of the Jews sent to the death camps are brought into a warehouse. Tons of suitcases are emptied of their contents to be analyzed. Jews are forced to evaluate the worth of the jewelry. There are numerous teeth extracted from dead Jews to get the gold fillings. The mountains of photographs emphasize the enormous number of people affected by these atrocities. Jews in the ghetto show anger, but they also make attempts at dealing with their situation. One uses humor saying he had a dream about waking up living with twelve strangers and then he woke up to find he is actually living with that number of strangers. The nightmare becomes reality. Another says at least “No one ordered me onto a truck today,” as he tries to find something positive in such a negative situation. There is a collaborator among them who says they had their chance to go along with the Nazis to survive. One says the ghetto is “liberty” since it frees them from anything getting worse, an ironic, pessimistic, satiric statement. One woman says at least being walled in keeps the Nazis at a distance, so there is a strange gratitude for the segregation from one’s enemy.
Goeth, the new local Nazi leader arrives, and is briefed as he rides into the ghetto. The Germans are all about organization, dividing up the Jews into two camps of able-bodied workers and “surplus” laborers consisting of the old and infirm. It is the latter group that Goeth must start with, in essence, to cleanse. Goeth has a cold and, annoyed, wants the top of the jeep raised since he is “freezing.” He always complains about what he is going through. He constantly sounds like he is congested, as if the whole experience dealing with the Jews causes an annoying allergic reaction. He is pestered by the bureaucratic pains of dealing with the Jews, and just wants things taken care of. So, killing Jews or getting something built are all equally just things that he must unfortunately deal with.

Goeth is upset that his house is not a villa, which, ironically, turns out to be a synagogue. To a degree he is like Schindler, in that he is only interested in his own comforts, but Goeth’s wants extend beyond anything civilized. He is a dangerous psychotic, and does not change, and the Nazi world allows his inner demons to run rampant. He goes through a line of young women so he can choose a housekeeper, and selects one who is pretty (which reminds us of Schindler preferring the attractive typist). Goeth says he doesn’t want to give her his cold, as if he is a considerate person. It is an ironic gesture from a man who then quickly orders the shooting of a Jewish woman, an engineer, who is contentious with the officers, telling them that the structure they are building will collapse if not corrected. She received an engineering degree from the University of Milan, and Goeth says sarcastically how she is an educated Jew like Karl Marx, whose heritage and theories the Nazis scorn. He says there will be no lowering of the German position as masters by arguing with “these people.” After ordering her death, he then uses what she said to fix the building. There is no better example of crazy evil than that.

There are parallel shots of Goeth and Schindler shaving, showing how they seem similar, although their differences will become more pronounced. Goeth gives a chilling speech to his men, which shows Hitler’s megalomania reverberating through his subordinate. He says this day is a historic one, which generations to come will ask about with “wonder.” He says centuries ago, Jews were invited to Krakow to escape the plague, which Goeth says they created, thus labeling Jews as the scourge of civilization, and making them worthy of extermination. After arriving in Poland, they flourished in diverse professions. He says “for six centuries, there has been a Jewish Krakow. By this evening, those six centuries will be a rumor. They never happened.” He is boasting about how the power of the Third Reich can wipe away history. If the fictional force of the “dark side” in Star Wars is scary, the horrors invented in our imaginations aren’t as frightening as the real people who implemented the Holocaust.
What follows is the liquidation of the Krakow Jewish ghetto. The soldiers evacuate everyone from the housing. If someone falls, they shoot him. A soldier smiles and plays with a child, exhibiting despicable hypocrisy which makes the purge even more horrific. Health care workers give an overdose of medication to the infirm since they will be shot by the Nazis as being of no worth to them. One woman receiving the lethal liquid smiles as if in gratitude for not having to be killed painfully by the enemy. Some try to escape through the sewers, having to go into the filth in an attempt to evade the excremental actions of the Nazis, but with not much success as they are gunned down. Some hide under the floorboards where they have cleared a space. One pretends to be a collaborator, clearing the paths of dead bodies for the Germans. The soldiers wait silently for those who hid to come out. The Jews use stethoscopes to listen for noise, but it is not good enough as they are caught exiting their hiding places. One person strapped himself under a bed, but is found out anyway. Others are in a place covered by a piano, but are shot for their resistance once they emerge. In contrast to the bullet sounds, a Nazi officer plays classical music on the keyboard, emphasizing the polar opposites of civilized and barbaric behavior, and the hypocritical coldness of how the Nazis can allow both to exist in the same moment. The duality in German culture is stressed as the soldiers machine gun people as they try to guess whether the music is by either Bach or Mozart. (In the novel The Tin Drum, pictures of Goethe and Hitler are placed on opposite walls of a home to illustrate the opposing tendencies in the German people). Goeth looks like he has put in a long tiring day at the office, as if it is he who has undergone an ordeal, saying, “I wish this night were over.”
Schindler observes the nightmarish scene, as do the audience, feeling as if we are watching a horror movie, although what he sees is all too real. He is up on a hill, on a horse, far removed from the soldiers’ raid, but unable to turn away from witnessing the cruelty below. Schindler makes out a small girl dressed in red, which stands out amid the black and white of the film. Spielberg has said that the use of color and the little girl is distracting in contrast to what is going on around her, which makes her appearance symbolic of how many allowed themselves to ignore the atrocities occurring while they looked away. Schindler watches the people herded together, stripped of their possessions, and many of them shot. He goes back to his office at the silent factory and looks down, again, from his lofty position which only provides him a negative image of the manufactured goods which are bereft of workers that made them, like grave markers for those gone.
There is again a parallel cut to Goeth looking down from his balcony. He is naked from the waist up, showing a bit of a pot belly, revealing his affluent position, watching as more lists are read of the Jews rounded up. In one of the more disturbing images depicted, he picks up a rifle and shoots two Jews who don’t happen to be engaged in work at the moment. He then returns to the naked woman in his bed, and playfully points the gun at her. She says he is acting like a child, as if he just has a toy gun. But his scary antics are not just for play.
Schindler shows up at a dinner with Nazi leaders. He meets Goeth, who compliments him on his silk suit. The two appreciate the finer things in life, but Schindler’s response sets them apart. He says he would get one for Goeth but the man who made it is probably dead. This remark can be taken as being funny, but Schindler’s stern look implies the Nazis are killing off the very people who can create what they value.  When he meets with Goethe one-on-one, he says nobody told him about the eradication of the ghetto, and now he has an empty factory because his workers are gone. When Goethe says they are still there, Schindler angrily says, “They’re mine!” which is possessive, but it is also protective, and the force in his voice shows his strength. He says every day that they are not working is bad for business. Schindler says “Thank you,” to Helen (Embeth Davidtz), the woman Goeth took out of the line-up to be his servant. Goeth hears Schindler being polite, and imitates him, trying to show that he can be as refined as Schindler. But, the scene also displays his envy, as Goeth feels deficient in not being capable of human decency. Goeth says that he heard that Schindler knows how to show gratitude in tangible ways. Schindler says if Goeth makes things easier for him, he will be grateful. So they reach an agreement, and the workers return to the factory. But, Goeth meets with Stern saying the accountant’s primary task is to ensure that he gets his cut of the profits, and that he is really working for Goeth now. During a party to ingratiate himself with the Nazi officials, Schindler has a brief secret meeting with Stern who talks to him about business details which just annoy Schindler. Since Stern is basically Goeth’s prisoner now, Schindler smuggled out some food for him, and this time Stern gives a genuine thank you.
In another vile act, Goeth visits a forced labor factory where he clocks a worker making hinges, because he has to make room for workers coming in from Yugoslavia. So if the man doesn’t make the grade he will be killed. The man finishes the task quickly, but Goeth notes he hasn’t made enough hinges for the day. They drag him outside to shoot him. He has to wait in agonizing terror as Goeth’s guns keeps jamming. The worker tries to explain that they were recalibrating the machinery that day and he was placed on a detail shoveling coal which explains his low production. Goeth does not listen and just gets more agitated as the guns don’t fire, again showing his irritation when what are to him small details don’t go his way. He finally just whacks the worker on the head with the gun. Stern tells Schindler about the man, and Schindler gives him his gold cigarette lighter to bribe an official so the man can be safe working in Schindler’s factory. Here, Schindler is able to counteract Goeth’s brutality. But, it’s difficult to limit Goeth’s violence. In another scene, a chicken is stolen, but the soldiers are not sure who took it. Goeth lines up several Jews, but when nobody confesses, he takes a rifle and shoots a man. At that point a little boy steps forward. He says to Goeth that he himself didn’t do it, but he knows who did. He cleverly points to the dead man, so that nobody else will be shot.

Stern brings another name to Schindler, who gives him a cigarette case as a bribe to get the person to work for Schindler. Next, children are brought into the factory to work. A young woman, who admits to being a Jew who is passing as a non-Jewish German, shows up to beg for the life of her elderly parents. They are in the forced labor camp, where the old and infirm, who have outlived their usefulness for the Nazis, are killed. She says Schindler’s place is a haven and that he is a good man. He yells at her, says that it is illegal what she asks, and he declares that he will not be entrapped. She runs out in tears. Schindler goes to Stern and says he knows what he is doing, and states that his place of business is a factory, not a “haven.” He requires skilled people, not just anyone, to work for him. Stern says he’s making money, but Schindler says it’s dangerous to protect the Jews. Contrary to what he said earlier about how the war is a business opportunity, he now says that war brings out the worst in people. He tries to make excuses for Goeth, saying he has a lot of responsibility and is under tremendous pressure. He argues, maybe trying to convince himself, that under normal circumstances, Goeth, “wouldn’t be like this. He’d be alright.” He says he enjoys good food, good wine, women, and making money (a man like Schindler himself). But Stern adds killing to that “list” which separates him from Schindler which shows how Schindler is in denial, and doesn’t want to think that Goeth likes to kill. He wants to just see the two of them as businessmen who made a mutually worthwhile deal. Stern argues against that perception by telling him how Goeth went down a group of Jews and shot to death every other one, killing twenty-five altogether. Schindler starts to face the horror, and tells Stern the names of the parents of the young woman who pleaded for Schindler to help them. He gives a watch to Stern for the bribe. The next scene shows the older couple being called out to work in Schindler’s factory.
At a party, Schindler encounters Goeth’s servant, Helen, as he goes for wine in the cellar. He gives her something to trade. She sits and Schindler is like a priest hearing the woman’s confession, only it is of Goeth’s sins, not hers. She says how the Nazi beat her, and how he shot a random woman in the street. She thinks one day he will also shoot her. She says she is resigned to this eventuality. Schindler says no, trying to restore Helen’s hope for survival. He tells her Goeth killed the woman on the street because she meant nothing to him. He says Goeth only wants what he desires, and he enjoys her which is why he doesn’t require Helen to wear the Jewish star. He doesn’t want anyone to know that he enjoys having a Jew around, which would be considered an abomination in Nazi society.
At the end of the party, Goeth is wasted and says that Schindler is never drunk. To him that is control, which is power. Schindler, trying to use his influence to change Goeth’s behavior, tells him killing people for “crimes” is justice, not power, but emperors showed their real power by being able to supercede the laws and pardon people. Later, when Goeth comes across a boy in the stable who has dropped his horse saddle, he says it’s “alright,” taking the cue from Schindler about the meaning of power. Goeth sees a soldier dragging a woman on the ground for smoking on the job. He just says to tell her not to do it again. But, then there is a young boy who couldn’t remove stains from Goeth’s bathtub. At first Goeth says “I pardon you.” But his warped mind has been empowered by the license given him by the Third Reich to do whatever he wants, so shoots the boy as he walks away.

In contrast to Schindler’s benevolent visit to the cellar, Goeth goes down there to see Helen, and as she stands there terrified of him, he wrestles with his feelings of attraction toward her and his racism mixed with his psychotic urges. He does all the talking, knowing that she worries, given his power over her, about what she should say. He says he knows she, being a Jew, is not a real person, like him, and that she is compared to rodents and lice. With fleeting insight, he says, however, that maybe it has nothing to do intrinsically with them as individuals, but it is the situation that keeps them apart and makes them lonely. He has the debate with himself, acting as if she is talking, which shows how his narcissism makes everything all about him. The evil side wins out. He says Helen almost convinced him that she is not a “rat,” but then he calls her a Jewish bitch, and proceeds to beat her. This scene is intercut with a Jewish wedding, which shows true caring between two individuals, and Schindler’s birthday party, where a young woman and a young girl, who are his workers, bring him a cake. He kisses the young one on the head, and the other on the lips, showing how he can accept these Jews as people worthy of affection, unlike Goeth.
The scene in the crowded work barracks demonstrates again how people deal with unimaginable situations. One woman tells a story of how the Nazis sent people into a place they said was for showering, but instead gassed the prisoners. The others there don’t want to believe it, saying how could it be true because nobody would survive to tell the tale. Also, they say it is illogical to kill your own workforce. They delude themselves to think they are too valuable to be killed. They underestimate the cruelty of their captors, as they try to use logic which is outside the bigger picture of the the Nazi plan of genocide.
Hungarian Jews arrive on trains, and Goeth says he must separate out the sick from the healthy to “make room,” for the added workforce. In ironic contrast, Goeth undergoes his own physical examination, which only carries minor advice that he must lose some weight and cut back on “the cognac.” As the tables with more lists are set up, there is the announcement to those in the trains that “those that are alive,” must come out, which is a ridiculous statement, since who else would hear the statement. But, it also shows how the transportation itself was a weeding out of those too sick to make the journey. As the Germans play music, whose sweet sound is in disharmony with what is happening (like the piano music during the ghetto liquidation), the soldiers humiliate the Jews, forcing them to run naked in circles to see how they will hold up. The women use needles to draw blood to smear over their faces, to give them a rosy, healthy color. One woman urges another “to look alive,” so she will stay alive. Many of the prisoners are emaciated. The Germans cruelly play sing-along music as they march the children into trucks. Those that are considered healthy to keep alive in order to do work go to the barracks. Those who are transported, including the children, will be sent to death camps. Some children run away to hide, under floors, and even in filthy latrines, so they can prolong their survival.

Schindler shows up at the station, where those that are to be sent to the camps are loaded onto the train. It is a hot day, and the passengers are gasping for air in the overcrowded cars. Schindler says to Goeth to indulge him by using water hoses to drench the cars. Schindler laughs, and as they wet the passengers, and Goeth says laughingly that Schindler is cruel for giving the Jews hope. Schindler is again being the con man, masking how he is attempting to lessen the suffering of those confined in the cars. Goeth thinks that Schindler is a sadist, like himself, and his motives are to torture the Jews. But then, Schindler brings water bottles in baskets and tells the soldiers to give the passengers water every time the train stops, showing his true concern for the prisoners.
Schindler is put in jail for kissing the Jewish girl. Goeth pleads on Schindler’s behalf, saying Schindler just loves women and they love him, and he doesn’t think about their background. Goeth actually uses a racist argument to try and get Schindler released, saying that when you work close to Jewish women they cast a spell and infect a man like a disease. He even tries to bribe the jailer. Schindler is released from custody and is lectured by a German superior official, who says there is no future in kissing Jews since they have no future. It’s not a matter of “good old-fashioned Jew hating,” it is government policy now not to fraternize. Racism is no longer just in the mind of the individual, something ugly to be hidden. The rulers of the current regime have made bigotry the law of the land.

Goeth tells Schindler they’re sending all the Jews to Auschwitz. Schindler tells Stern he will leave Krakow, has more money than he needs, and can only run the factory if Stern is there. Schindler seems truly sorry that Stern must leave, and had hoped that after these bad times ended they could have a drink together, as friends. Schindler has another woman in his bed, but he is not happy, as he listens now to African American blues, showing how he is moving away from his German background. He decides to take action, since that is his way of dealing with a seemingly desperate situation. He uses his convincing personality on Goeth, saying he wants his workers back in his factory because he is familiar with them, and won’t have to train new employees. He wants to move his factory away from the Nazi extermination machine in Poland. Goeth bargains hard with him, wanting enough of a cut that mirrors how important Schindler’s people are to him. Schindler says he will be making artillery shells for Germany so everyone will profit. But, Schindler’s real motivation now is to save lives.
This is how Schindler’s list starts. Stern types it up, and the enlarged names appear on the screen, showing the importance of individual people. The list includes the original Jewish investors, the workers and their children. Schindler keeps wanting to put more names on the list. When they reach the end, Stern realizes that Schindler has bought the safety of these people. Stern calls the list an “an absolute good. The list is life. All around its margins lies the gulf.” It is an island of life surrounded by a sea death. Stern started out attempting what he saw as the almost impossible job of using Schindler, but he became Schindler’s conscience. Now he is in awe of how Schindler will do anything to protect the Jews in his life. He had Stern leave room for one more name, and it is to be Helen’s. But, Goeth says no, he wants to bring her to Vienna with him, which Schindler points out can’t happen. Goeth says he knows, and instead of sending her to Auschwitz he feels it would be better to shoot her in the head. Schindler gambles on gaining Helen’s freedom by playing cards with Goeth, telling him he will pay a substantial sum of money if he loses, but will gain Helen’s freedom if he wins. He obviously does win the card game since we see Helen at the factory.

In his home town of Brinnlitz, Schindler welcomes the men and male children, saying the women will be arriving, and the factory is close by. We see the women in the train cars, but they pass by a child who moves his hand across his throat as if implying that their throats will be slit. The train arrives instead at Auschwitz. They see the chimneys spewing forth smoke from the ovens cremating the bodies. Schindler says that there was a paperwork mistake and the women were misrouted. Schindler goes to Auschwitz and the official he talks to has his eyes in shadows, which makes him look sinister but also shows how he tries to hide the evil being carried out, calling the extermination, “Special Treatment.” Schindler puts diamonds on the table, saying they will all need portable wealth. The camp official accepts the diamonds, saying he can get Schindler the Jews arriving in a new shipment. Schindler demands the women from Krakow. The soldiers try to separate out the young girls, but Schindler rescues them saying they are essential workers, with hands small enough to polish the inside of shell casings. In a sense, they, along with the men and other children who worked for him, are Schindler’s family now. The list appears again as the names are read off, freeing the women from the camp, showing its power, as if it was written by the hand of God. Goeth once jokingly called Schindler “Moses,” and here he is forcing the new Pharaoh to let his people go.

Schindler tells the German guards at the new factory that there will be no summary executions. If a worker is shot, Schindler gets compensated and the soldier will be imprisoned. He says no soldier will be allowed on the factory floor without his permission. He then seals the deal with free alcohol for the soldiers, and assures their commanding officer he will be rewarded for his cooperation. Schindler visits his wife at church and tells her that no one will ever mistake another woman for his wife. Emile joins him to work in the factory. Schindler seems to have shifted his life’s journey toward the high road.

Stern is worried that the factory will be closed down and the workers sent to the death camps because the shells they have produced are not passing quality standards. Schindler says he will write a letter to buy them time. Stern says he heard that Schindler was recalibrating the machinery, making sure the shells would not work. Schindler says he will be very unhappy if any shells made by them can be used. He has gone way beyond just saving some people; he has reversed his whole selfish way of living, and is actually trying to sabotage the Nazi war machine. Schindler has become so pro-Jewish that he even tells the rabbi at the factory that it is Friday and he should be preparing for the sabbath. We now have the candles that were at the beginning, shown in color, as we come full circle to affirm that the Jewish traditions will continue.
During the seven months that the munitions factory was operational, it was “a model of non-production.” Schindler also spent millions to protect his workforce through bribes until he was almost broke. The end of the war is announced on the radio. Schindler tells a gathering of his workers that hostilities have ceased, and they must try to look for family survivors, but probably will find none. He says not to thank him for surviving, but instead thank themselves, Stern, and the other Jewish leaders. Schindler says he is a member of the Nazi Party, a munitions manufacturer, and a person who used slave labor. Despite his life-saving actions, he will be seen as a “criminal.” He says they will be free at midnight, but he, ironically, will be hunted.

As they leave the factory, Schindler is still showing his concern, telling Stern how to take care of his people, giving them cloth, cigarettes and vodka to trade. The workers signed a letter explaining how Schindler helped them, and they give it to him to prove what he has done if he is captured. A worker donates one of his gold-filled teeth, in contrast to the desecrating extractions conducted by the Nazis on Jewish bodies. It us used to make a ring to give to Schindler with an inscription in Hebrew from the Talmud which says, “Whoever saves one life, saves the world entire.” Now, Schindler’s facade of strength breaks down, and he cries as he says “I could have got more out.” He says that he threw away so much money, and he says, “I didn’t do enough.” Stern says that 1,100 were saved and there will be future generations because of him. But, Schindler persists, saying he could have saved ten more people if he sold his car. He feels guilty because he believes he could have freed at least one more person. As he cries, Stern, Emilie, and others hold him. He then rides away. A Russian officer says the Russian government have liberated the workers, but he tells them don’t go east, because they hate the Jews there, and he wouldn’t recommend going west either. The plight continues, only in different ways and in other times and places.
Goeth was arrested in a sanatorium and his last words before he was hung were, “Heil Hitler,” stressing how he was given the authority to indulge his murderous ways by a demented man at the top of the government. We are told that Schindler’s marriage failed, and so did several of his businesses after the war, so, ironically, he was at the height of his accomplishments at one of the lowest points in human history. There is a shot of Schindler’s Jews walking toward a town as we hear Jewish folk music sung. The film ends with the actual people that Schindler saved, and their descendants, accompanied by the actors who portrayed some of them, walking toward Schindler’s grave and placing rocks on his marker, which is a traditional Jewish expression of respect. At the time of the film’s making, there were fewer than 4,000 Jews left alive in Poland. There are more than 6,000 descendants of Schindler's Jews. In 1958, he was declared “a righteous person,” by the council of Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, and was invited to plant a tree in the Avenue of the Righteous.” The tree still grows, as does hope against tyranny.
The film shows many ways to deal with fascism. One can ignore it, run and hide from it, become a collaborator, succumb to its power, use humor, adapt, or an individual can find a way to fight it. Let’s hope if faced with this evil, we will choose Schindler’s way.

The next film is Sense and Sensibility.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Recent Films

I thought I would write some brief impressions of recent films. A version of these summaries appeared on the Facebook page for my recent novel, The Bigger Picture.
Leave No Trace is an independent movie that reminds one of Captain Fantastic released a few years back about a father keeping his family off of the grid. In this more somber new story, the focus is on a war veteran with PTSD who has raised his daughter in the woods because he no longer can function in society. The mainstream world seems restrictive and intrusive in this film, but there are those among the victims who try to help each other on the outskirts of civilization. Good acting and very involving.
Before seeing Hereditary I was expecting an interesting psychological and scary portrait of a warped family. It was that, but the movie was slow at the beginning, and did not engage my attention. There were huge gaps in the plot that didn't even attempt to shed light on the crazy actions that were occurring until a feeble bit of explanation was made at the end. I really can't recommend this one.
I looked forward to seeing The Equalizer II since I enjoyed the first entry in this series, and, again, Denzel Washington delivers. Has this actor ever been less than excellent? Yes, the film has the usual amount of violence and mayhem that we see in action movies. Here, however, the story takes the time to show supporting characters who are struggling to make their lives better despite the punishing realities they must face. There is the alcoholic trying to stay sober, the Holocaust survivor searching for a long lost relative, and the youth with artistic talent being sucked into the gang culture in his neighborhood. Washington's character, who has suffered the loss of people he loves, is a control freak, lining up his fruit in formation and constantly checking his watch to make sure he meets his self-imposed time limits. But, there is one scene where his inner demons break loose, and we see that he is as tortured as those he tries to help. There is an actual hurricane in the movie (and Washington starred in the film The Hurricane). It is symbolic of the uncontrollable forces that seem to batter all of us on the outside and also on the inside.
If you want action, great stunts, digital or otherwise, Mission Impossible: Fallout delivers. It would help to have seen previous entries in this series concerning the characters, but it is not essential. There are many plot twists, maybe too many, because it is not easy to follow all of the scams being perpetrated. But, the plot keeps the audience alert with its many surprises.
I was skeptical of how successful the remake of Murder on the Orient Express would be. The plot in the newer version was changed enough to make it interesting to watch even if you saw the earlier Sidney Lumet directed movie. The cast was good, but it didn't top the previous one headed by Albert Finney as Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot with Ingrid Bergman’s Best Supporting Actress Oscar performance. If you haven't watched the first one, try viewing it and then compare it to the recent one. Then, decide for yourselves which you prefer.
I noticed that the movie Tully came out on DVD. If you get a chance to see this movie, it's well worth it. Charlize Theron is great in this film, and should get an Oscar nomination. The film does not idealize motherhood, showing how tough modern times are on being a female parent. If you're observant, you'll see the plot twist that will come at the end of the story.
BlacKkKlansman is a powerful film that gets its message across using humor mixed with deadly serious drama. Spike Lee is not a subtle filmmaker, but he is a very accomplished one. The thrust here is story and theme, not character development. He uses his movie history knowledge to comment on how racism in the motion picture industry has existed since the original "Birth of a Nation," through the Tarzan films, and in the stereotypes portrayed in  Shaft and Super Fly. This story is based on an almost unbelievable true story about a black policeman who infiltrates the KKK on the phone, and then sends a white cop to meetings in person to be his alter ego. Lee uses phrases such as "America first," and the desire to start another "Tea Party," as ways of connecting the story to current times. He shows how the white supremacists used fear of immigrants to further their cause, obviously making a reference to recent events. In the end, he uses footage of the Charlottesville, VA riot to cement his argument that racism has a long and unhealthy history in the USA.
Maybe you haven't heard of the recent film Eighth Grade, but it received great critical response, and rightly so. Those middle years have always been rough for unpopular or socially-challenged youths. This movie brings that struggle up to the current day when cell phones and social media play a part, for better and for worse. The main character basically talks to herself through supposedly shared video posts. She is really revealing her true nature below the shy exterior shown in public. Through these posts, she is actually urging herself to come out of her shell and make more of her life. The movie also shows when adults don’t act their age, trying to relate to kids by using youthful words and actions, they come off looking lame.
The Meg is what a friend of mine would call a “no zzz movie.” There is so much action that if you fell asleep during this one, you should check yourself into a narcolepsy clinic. Jason Statham plays a wisecracking testosterone-fueled character (you expected something else?), as he reluctantly gets involved in saving others from the prehistoric supersized shark that humans released from under an ice covered ocean bottom natural aquarium. It’s sort of payback for science messing too much with mother nature. Good special effects, but no real character development. Probably the fourth best shark film I have seen after Jaws (of course), The Shallows, and Deep Blue Sea. Actually, fifth best if you include Open Water, but that’s more about abandonment than sharks. Because of another recent film, when I saw the shark attacking eastern tourists at an upscale beach, I thought of a mash-up: Crazy, Rich Tasty Asians.
I was just watching Schindler’s List again for my next post. It was interesting to see Ben Kingsley portray a Jewish business manager helping Jews escape occupied Poland in that film, and then watch him in the polar opposite role of the Nazi Adolf Eichmann in Operation Finale. I remember as a child watching excerpts of the trial of Eichmann on television, showing him housed in a bulletproof transparent cage in the courtroom. It was the only time I saw a Nazi who was involved in the Holocaust, and it was chilling to see him even at an early age. The recent film references Eichmann’s role of being in charge of transporting Jewish prisoners to ghettos and concentration camps for eventual extermination. Israeli agents, headed by one played by Oscar Isaac, go to Argentina (whose compromised law enforcement departments protected the Nazis) to extract Eichmann, not assassinate him. The goal was to have the world witness his trial and remember the atrocities that Hitler’s Germany inflicted on millions. The best scenes are between Kingsley and Isaac, as Eichmann tries to present himself as not really believing in the “superior race” concept, since none of the Nazi leaders looked Aryan, including the dark-haired Hitler. He also argues that he actually tried to save some Jews. One flaw in the film is that it doesn’t deliver on the danger built up surrounding what might happen to the Israeli agents if they didn’t get on the plane to Israel with Eichmann. Also, Argo is more effective in dramatizing a real life escape from a hostile country, and the fictional film The Debt is more intense and dramatically satisfying depicting a similar story of Israeli agents capturing a Nazi criminal and trying to bring him to justice.

The next film to be analyzed is Schindler’s List.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Hell or High Water

SPOILER ALERT! The plot will be discussed.
One of the best movie scripts, written by Taylor Sheridan, in recent years is the basis for this 2016 film. The title usually refers to a task that must be completed no matter what obstacles are in the way. IMDb also notes that it refers to language that was used in a lease contract, which stipulated that the occupant must make his or her payments without exception. The general and the specific references of the phrase fit this story, as two brothers rob banks to make a payment on a ranch in West Texas. Also, this movie is sort of a male companion piece to Thelma and Louise, recently analyzed here, about crime, the ends justifying the means, and hitting the road.
Actor Gil Birmingham, who plays Texas Ranger Alberto Parker, the partner of Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges), said that the film is about two contentious pairs of brothers, one connected by blood, the other by vocation. As we see, the brothers in crime are mirrored by the two men on the side of the law. The movie opens with plaintive string instrument music in the background, reminiscent of another crime in the heartland film, Fargo. The first shot is of a rural, desolate town with old pickup trucks and run down houses. There are these words written on the side of a building: “3 tours in Iraq, but no bailout for people like us.” Of course the graffiti refers to the 2008 government bailout of the Wall Street investment banks after they put people in huge debt by selling them inflated mortgages that the owners could not pay off. These multi-billion dollar financial institutions were deemed “too big to fail.” But, the thrust of the writing on the wall here is that soldiers who put their lives on the line, and came home damaged physically and psychologically, were too small to worry about. Right away we know that even though this movie centers on two brothers robbing banks for relatively small amounts, the real criminals are considered the economy destroying banks.
A car pulls up to a branch of the Texas Midland Bank (so we know where we are without some intrusive titles pasted on the screen). The building is across from a Goodyear tire store which has a brick wall formation that looks like three crosses. The image contrasts religious and profane visuals in the same shot, and suggests the conflicted feelings we will have as we witness the actions and motives of the two brothers. (IMDb suggests the crosses refer to the three law-abiding people later killed in the story). Brothers Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster, in a performance that should have earned him an Oscar nomination) approach the bank wearing ski masks as the female teller opens the door. She says the money is in the safe and not the drawer. She lectures the two men by saying they should leave now, and then would be “only guilty of being stupid.” Tanner shows he is a hothead, daring her to stay he’s stupid again. (The teller’s assessment is wrong, as we learn during the course of the film that these two are anything but stupid). Toby is more calm and quiet, and only wants to know when the bank manager will arrive since he is the one with the safe combination. The manger enters, sees his teller on the floor and then hears a gun cock. He knows what’s happening, but still says, comically, given the circumstances, in a Texas folksy manner, “Good Morning.” Tanner whacks the manager across the nose with his gun, showing the two Texas elements standing side by side, one being courtesy and the other violence. This combination is repeated in the rest of the movie.
As they drive away, Toby’s cautious and restrained personality is seen when he tells Tanner that he didn’t have to hit the bank manager, and says his brother  should stop speeding. Tanner is more carefree, assuring Toby he doesn’t have to worry. They drive their dusty sports sedan past some oil fields, which is a foreshadowing of what will figure into the story later. There is an older man at the next Midland branch depositing a large number of coins in wrappers which he found underneath some sacks of feed. He says he didn’t know he had some extra money sitting there while he lived off an “inmate’s diet.” The metaphor likens his impoverished life to serving a sentence in a prison. It’s as if the poor are already in jail without committing a crime, except being guilty of not having any money and the power that derives from it. The brothers burst in, and there is a Bonnie and Clyde feel to their robbery as Toby tells the old man, “We ain’t stealing from you. We’re stealing from the bank.” Just like Bonnie and Clyde, these brothers don’t go after poor people. Keeping that “bailout” sign in mind, it appears that Toby and Tanner are getting their share from those who received it from the government. In essence, they are robbing the middleman in order to get restitution for crimes committed against them. Tanner asks only for smaller bills, and not bundles, so the money won’t be traced. Since they are not directly stealing his coins, the old man, like the bank manager, is mannerly and says, “Much obliged.” Toby says “Sorry,” also being courteous, but it also shows the contrast in the brothers’ temperaments. Then that contrasting violence inserts itself. You know it’s Texas when they ask the old man if he has a gun, and he says, “You’re goddamn right I got a gun.” As they leave, the old man shifts into angry mode, calling the robbers bastards, and starts shooting at them. Tanner yells at Toby for not taking the old guy’s gun, but Toby says they were not robbing an old man, just a place. His statement shows how he cares about individuals, not the exploitative institutions. Tanner whoops it up, and says they are like Comanches, raiding where they please, He calls the Native Americans the “Lord of the Plains.” It is an ironic statement, since Native Americans were vanquished, but Tanner seems to want to hearken back to a time when the individual wasn’t intimidated by those with power. To show how they have thought things out, they drive their car into a huge hole and have a backhoe to bury it.

We then cut to Ranger Marcus who has a supply of ethnic insults for his half-Native American, half- Mexican partner, Alberto. Marcus asks why does Alberto wear the same clothes as him, and implies imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so he must be complementing Marcus. Alberto says they have to wear a uniform and have only three types of shirts to choose from, so sometimes they will wear the same outfit. Alberto then says either Marcus should hear about the recent robberies, or, “Let Alzheimer’s run its course.” This dialogue establishes the relationship between the two. Marcus, brought up to show affection not through warmth, but like the way a boy gets the attention of a girl, which is usually by pulling her hair. He isn’t allowed to be unmanly, so he gets closer to his partner by being humorously aggressive. Marcus considers how the two thieves just hit Texas Midland branches, and not for large amounts or denominations. He points out that they didn’t cross state lines, and that, with the the smaller heists, eliminates bringing in the FBI. Also, “tweakers” rob convenience stores, smaller establishments, not banks. So, Marcus concludes that these crimes are thought out, and not the efforts of impulsive drug users, as Alberto suggests. Alberto says Marcus may get in some fun before they send him to the rocking chair. So, we find out that Marcus is very close to retirement.
Back at the the family ranch, we get to know more about the brothers and their family. Toby is again the responsible one, telling Tanner to stop drinking because he needs him sober. Tanner’s response is to say a person can’t get drunk on beer, which shows how his defiance even challenges the laws of chemistry. His statement also shows cowboy macho swagger, which is evident among the male population here. Tanner complains that the place looks bad, and Toby says while his brother was in jail he had to take care of their mother before she recently died, so Tanner should “go f... yourself.” This bickering mirrors that of Marcus and Alberto, and, like the law officers, there is true affection underneath between the two brothers. They look at the room where their mother was sick. It contains a hospital bed and IV pole. Tanner says he could have helped clean up at the end and feed the skinny cows, but Toby says they were so poor they didn’t have any feed for the animals. Tanner admits it doesn’t matter, because their mother wrote him off and didn't want to have anything to do with him. He basically has already given up on making anything worthwhile out of his life since his mother gave up on him long ago. He accepts his wild ways that aren’t compatible with civilized life. Tanner asks if he was in the mother’s will. Toby admits that she left everything to Toby, but all of it is going to his boys on Friday. His statement not only shows that they have a plan with a deadline, but it also shows Toby is not looking to enrich himself. Tanner says that their mother didn’t protect them, and didn’t like it that he fought their loser, abusive father. Toby says that the more Tanner fought, the more beatings he took. That’s why Tanner says he shot “that son-of-a-bitch.” As the story unfolds, we are of two minds when it comes to Tanner, understanding his desire for independence and anger, but also frightened by his violent ways.

After the brothers switch to another car, we see the two of them drive by a billboard that asks “In Debt?” in big letters next to a farm. The pervasiveness of financial collapse is everywhere, and spawns businesses that profit from those owing money. Meanwhile, Marcus stops a man in a pick-up and gives him a card, saying if he sees anyone that looks “sideways” to give him a call. The cowboy says “sideways” doesn’t want to run into him or that person will find himself on “the wrong end of a short rope.” Marcus says that would simplify things except for the cowboy, who then says, “only if you can find the tree.” Marcus then says “God, I love West Texas.” In this exchange we see the tough male individuality and boastfulness that persists in the cowboy persona even to the present day.

Marcus asks the teller of the first bank if the robbers were black or white. She asks if he is referring to the color of their souls. Her view is that they are evil men, but the story argues the opposite, that people many times can’t be so simply judged. Marcus also concludes that the men are not done yet, since they are taking a series of smaller amounts to reach a certain total. The fact that they hit Texas Midland branches at this time is because the bank is switching over from tape surveillance to digital, so there would be no recording of perpetrators. This fact again shows how the crimes were well thought out ahead of time.
At a restaurant, Tanner asks Toby if his boys know how rich they’re going to be. Based on the small amounts stolen, his statement implies that there must be some other part of the scheme that the audience must still discover. Toby hasn’t told them anything, not even about their grandmother passing away. He hasn’t seen them in a year, and has only talked to his sons on the phone. Since Toby owes his ex-wife child support money, Tanner tells him to settle up with what they have stolen. However, that’s not what the robberies are about. It sounds to Toby that Tanner doesn’t think they’re going to “get away” with their plans which would provide financial security for Toby’s family. Tanner says, “I’ve never met nobody who got away with anything, ever.” His statement again shows how Tanner has a defeatist view concerning the hopes of poor people. The only reason he went along with Toby on his plan was because Toby asked, which shows how love bonds family together, even to the point of self-sacrifice.

Tanner says he has to go to the bathroom, but improvises, and leaves to rob a bank across from the restaurant which is not one belonging to Texas Midland. His action is reckless, since the cops will then ask questions of those in the restaurant where they ate. The waitress, Jenny Ann (Katy Mixon) is nice to Toby, saying she’ll wait around for him to finish his meal since she has to be there all day anyway. Toby answers her question about his type of work by saying he drilled for natural gas, was laid off, and can’t seem to get a job drilling oil, even though, as Jenny Ann points out, the jobs seem to require the same skills. Their conversation  emphasizes the sometimes bizarre fate of the unemployed. She tells him they need a cook, speaking as one low wage earner trying to help out another looking for a job. He leaves her a $200 tip, which, of course, will draw curiosity given what his brother is doing. Tanner, dropping bills while running, yells to Toby outside the restaurant to start the car. He tells Toby afterwards that he just stole extra money beyond what they need for their plan so his brother can pay his child support. But Toby is upset by Tanner’s risky activity which now requires that they bury their current car ahead of schedule, and he has made it difficult to get to a Native American casino on time. Toby’s plan is obviously an intricate one. They drive to a trailer where Tanner picks up quite an arsenal of guns, which makes Toby apprehensive as he tries to exert calm control in the presence of Tanner’s dangerous ways.

We learn more about the two Rangers as they continue to bicker with each other in a humorous way. Alberto says he knows that Marcus will go crazy in retirement without confronting someone to outsmart, which shows Marcus’ crime solving abilities. But, it also reveals how Marcus wants to feel superior to his situation by controlling it. Alberto says Marcus will need a hobby, and suggests horses. Marcus says that was his wife’s thing, and it would only remind him of her. We now know that his wife died, so retirement will be an especially trying experience for someone alone who has left an adrenalin and cerebral centered job. Marcus says maybe he’ll go out in a blaze of glory in a shootout with the robbers (which is ironic, since it is not he who will get shot). Alberto wittily says he knows the way Marcus shoots, so there won’t be much “glory” in it. Marcus retaliates by making a racial slur saying he’ll at least have a half-breed to avenge him, although he’s not sure since Indians have a reputation for drinking too much.

On the road, the Rangers encounter a cattle rancher who is having a difficult time herding cattle away from a fire. He complains that it’s the 21st century, but  modern technology hasn’t aided him as he still must protect his cattle the old fashioned way in a new world with its punishing economy. He says you may as well turn him into ashes and put him out of his misery, and knows why his “kids won’t do this shit for a living.” Marcus practically writes an epitaph for the cowboy lifestyle, which tries to hang on with Texas grit, when he says there’s nobody around to help the ranchers, and “these boys are on their own.”

The Rangers find out from the teller at the bank that Tanner robbed that there was only one thief, who ran to a car parked at the diner. There is video here, and Marcus rightly concludes that the man’s partner may have been in the restaurant, didn’t know what the other was doing, and the heist was an improvisation. Marcus shows the shared animosity toward the predatory banking industry when he sees a guy in a suit and says there is a fellow who looks like he can foreclose on a house. Marcus goes to the restaurant and the anti-banking sentiment continues. When he asks if the men sitting at a booth had been there for a while, one guy says long enough to see the bank get robbed that’s been robbing him for thirty years. Marcus, showing his insight into people, says to the waitress Jenny Ann that he wants to ask her about the handsome bank robbers she waited on. She says how come handsome, and Marcus says because she didn’t rush to meet him in the parking lot to offer him information about the robbery. He finds out about her large tip, and says that’s evidence, wanting to try and trace the bills. But, after talking with Toby and seeing his sad and struggling nature, she feels a rebellious kinship with the robbers who are trying to take some power back from those rich folk in charge. She says she will only turn over the money if the two she waited on are proven to be the bank robbers; otherwise, she needs the money to pay her mortgage and keep a roof over her daughter’s head. She says until then, they should come back with a warrant. We almost have here a Robin Hood situation of stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. The Rangers, however, find that the clothes of the thief in the video match those of a customer in the restaurant, adding weight to Marcus’ theory.

As Toby goes into a convenience store, there is a cowboy with a horse near the car where Tanner waits for his brother. We then have a juxtaposition of images (similar to one in Easy Rider, where there is a shot of a horse in contrast with that of a motorcycle).The Old West visual is blotted out by young guys in a sports car blaring rock music. Tanner gives one of the youths a look and the driver says what’s the problem while pulling out a gun. Tanner shows his contempt for the inferior version of this new kind of cowboy when he says to the guy that “you think you were ten of me.” Toby comes over and beats the young man badly, intimidating the passenger into saying his pal had it coming. Tanner laughs, enjoying his brother’s violent action as a kind of fun thing to do, and tells him he still has some spunk in him. Toby remembers this time to throw the man’s gun away, as opposed to what happened with the old fellow at the second bank, of which Tanner jokingly reminds him. But, Toby wasn’t showing off his macho abilities. We again see the differences between them, because Toby is upset that his brother invited a confrontation, and tells Tanner that the other man could have killed him. But his brother is arrogantly boastful about his toughness, saying “that’s not how it would have gone.” Toby gets in a funny line here at his brother’s expense because the store was out of the Dr. Pepper Tanner wanted and only had Mr. Pibb. Tanner says, “Only assholes drink Mr. Pibb,” and Toby says, “Drink up.”
The brothers arrive at the casino. Toby has smartly planned to exchange the stolen money for gambling chips and then cash in the chips for new bills that can’t be traced to the robberies. Tanner decides to play some poker and there is a Native American there at the table. Tanner asks him if he is a Comanche, and the man (Gregory Cruz) says yes. Tanner says then he is a “Lord of the Planes.” But, the man, adding to the theme in the film of how things have changed for the worse, says he is “Lord of Nothing.” He says that Comanche means “Enemy to everyone.” Tanner, with a look of understanding and defiance says, “Do you know what that makes me? A Comanche.” Tanner acknowledges that he, too, is an outsider at war with the society in which they live, and the two are really comrades. A prostitute, seeing Toby’s stack of chips, propositions him. Tanner yanks her away and says that she would probably call her pimp and they would have tried to rob Toby. He is rough with her, and she goes off saying he’s crazy, with Tanner comically saying, “Call me.” Toby asks how did he stay out of jail for a year, and jokingly Tanner says, “it’s been difficult,” His natural inclination is to break the law, not abide by it. They cash in the chips, keeping some money for Toby’s support payments, and strangely, the rest is in a check made payable to Texas Midland Bank, the outfit they are robbing, which is another clue as to their grand plan.

Tanner tells the receptionist that she will giggle when she is in the nursing home many years later, that’s what an amazing impression he will make on her. While the brothers check in at the nice casino, we see that the thieves are able to live it up better than the Rangers, who are staying at The Sunset Motel. (The name may point to Marcus’ inescapable retirement). Marcus continues with the Native American cliches, saying why isn’t Alberto burning sage and dancing around the bed like a bee stung him. He then starts in on Alberto’s Mexican heritage by saying they’ll put soccer on the TV soon, which Aztecs probably invented when they started kicking skulls around. He tells Alberto in a year he’ll miss his insults and think of them at Marcus’ grave (which turns out to be a tragically ironic comment). Alberto comes back by saying he wishes that were tomorrow, causing Marcus to laugh and say that his partner is getting the hang of trading insults. Alberto asks if it’s getting “late for him,” and Marcus says yeah, which it is in terms of Marcus’ impending retirement, but even more so as it turns out for Alberto. Marcus can’t sleep, wraps a blanket around himself, and sits outside all night. In the morning he tells Alberto he’s practicing sleeping on his porch for when he retires. Alberto, trying to comfort his cantankerous partner about finishing his career, says they have a dangerous job and Marcus is lucky he got through it. The film layers on the irony when Alberto says he hopes he will be that lucky.
We cut to the office of a lawyer where we learn of Toby and Tanner’s scheme. The brothers are trying to steal just enough money to pay off the reverse mortgage plus back taxes owed on their mother’s land at the time of her death. That is why Toby wanted the casino check made out to Texas Midland, which granted her just enough money to keep her impoverished so that they could obtain the property when she passed away with her terminal illness. The bank discovered there was oil on the ranch and they would then be legally entitled to take possession of the land and the wealth derived from the drilling. Toby signs papers to appoint the attorney executor of a trust which will ensure that the land, which he is signing over to his sons, can’t be sold. He doesn’t want the boys to sell the farm for short term gain and jeopardize future income. But, he also wants to keep the ranch in the family as a symbol of defiance against the powerful interests plundering the land of struggling people. It’s also Toby’s way of making restitution for not being able to take care of his children while they were growing up. It will appear as if the men were lucky at the casino and used gambling winnings to settle the debt. The police will not be able to prove otherwise, so no matter what happens to Toby or Tanner, the boys’ future will be secure. The lawyer comments about paying off those “bastards” with their own money: “Well, if that ain’t Texan, I don’t know what is.” His words embody the frontier independence of the American Old West that pits the individual against tyranny. The lawyer reminds the brothers that the bank loan officer has to fax him a release of the lien on the property once they pay it off. The bank will try to foreclose, so they have to get there on Friday, “come hell or high water,” to reach their goal, thus stressing the desperate situation of these men referenced in the title of the movie. They also talk about getting a lease agreement to Chevron to insure the income from the oil company. In order to really cement the deal, the lawyer advises that, ironically, Toby should have Texas Midland handle the trust, since it would be in their best financial interest not to want any subsequent questioning of how the debt was paid off.
We have more humor as the Rangers stake out a Texas Midland branch office that Marcus suspects will be the next one to be robbed. At a local restaurant, an older, tough looking waitress (Margaret Bowman) approaches Marcus and Alberto. In response to the question about how she is doing she says “hot, and I don’t mean the good kind.” She asks the men what don’t they want, and they are confused. As to the menu choices, she says that for her 44 years of waitressing at this establishment everybody has ordered T-Bone steak and a baked potato, “except this one asshole from New York tried to order trout back in 1987. We don’t sell no goddamned trout.” So, the only choice they really have is either they don’t want green beans or don’t want corn on the cob. Marcus says, seeing how mean the waitress is, that nobody is going to rob this place, and Alberto later says that the town has a rattlesnake for a waitress. So, it’s not only the men who are old-fashioned tough in this part of the country.
The brothers get a truck so Toby can go to pay his ex-wife and Tanner can get the lease agreement to Chevron. Toby says don’t treat the oil company as the enemy. Tanner says they are (they wouldn’t give Toby a job and are reducing the number of farms and ranches), they’re just not their enemy right now. To emphasize the growing tentacles of the industry, Toby drives by the oil refineries that have made their huge profits there. Toby visits his ex-wife, Debbie (Marin Ireland), and informs her that his mother died. Her reaction is to say “good riddance,” since she knew how the woman enabled her mean husband. Toby says he’s not selling the ranch but is giving it to their boys, and putting it in a trust so nobody can sell it. Debbie says it’s just another thing to have to take care of, because she doesn’t know Toby’s scheme, and he doesn’t want her to know too much before it’s done so as not to implicate her. Toby goes outside to talk to his oldest son, Justin (John-Paul Howard). Toby offers him a beer, and tells him his grandmother died. He also let’s Justin know that he is giving the ranch to him and his brother, and they won’t have to worry about money no more since oil was found on it. Toby says Justin will be hearing bad things about his dad and Tanner, and all of it is true. He advises his son to not be like them. Justin says Toby said don’t be like him, and then offered him a beer. Toby says “Good boy,” for realizing the contradiction, the difference between the right and wrong paths.
The Rangers indulge in more arguing, as Alberto questions just sitting around waiting for the two guys to rob the Texas Midland branch across the street. Marcus says they won’t find any fingerprints at the crime scenes (the men wore latex gloves), and there’s no point driving to look at mugshots that nobody will ID. Alberto says Marcus just wants to make the investigation last to put off his retirement, which is probably partly true. Alberto complains about staying in the town, which he says is a loser place to be in. Marcus says the people there have learned to survive despite the obstacles, but Alberto questions the quality of that survival. He says that all the land as far as the eye can see used to belong to Native Americans. Then the town’s ancestors took it away from his people, and now it’s being taken from the white man’s descendents. But, Alberto says “cept it ain’t no army doin’ it. It’s those sons of bitches right there,” pointing at the bank. Greed has now replaced invading troops as the new vanquisher.
Again, we have a parallel scene where the brothers talk, which mirrors how the Rangers were conversing with each other. Tanner says how come the sweet girls (the receptionist at the hotel he persuaded to have sex with him) turn out to be the wild ones. Toby says he wouldn’t know, because he never was with a sweet woman. Tanner, laughing, says that Toby seems to likes his women angry, looking for someone to blame. Toby, smiling at his brother’s insight, says it does seem to be that way. Even though Tanner scares and frustrates Toby, they share these funny moments which shows the affection they feel for each other. Tanner says seriously that it’s a good thing Toby is doing, and Toby, generously including his brother in the plan, adds, “What we’re doing.” But, the film puts forth the question of whether the ends justify the means. The scene ends with the brothers drinking and horsing around (which fits, since they are Texans) as the sun sets.

Early the next morning, the brothers plan to hit two more branches to get the money they need. They go to a branch that is locked, which alters their plans. Tanner, despite Toby’s objections, pushes his brother to rob the bank in the town of Post because it is bigger, and will get them the money they need. Alberto ticks off Marcus by bringing up the fact that the men hadn’t rob the bank in the town which they staked out. In a cantankerous way, Marcus says that they should go to Post because it fits the pattern.
Because they are running late, when the brothers get to the Post branch office there are a lot of customers in it, a situation Toby wanted to avoid to prevent possible casualties. As they start their heist, one female customer secretly texts 911. Another pulls out his gun and starts shooting. Toby gets hit, and then a guard starts firing. Tanner shoots them both dead. A bunch of locals packing firearms start shooting at them, taking the law into their own hands, as the brothers get away. The proliferation of guns here escalates the violence since no one would have gotten hurt if the customer hadn’t started shooting. Tanner comically yells that concealed permits complicate things, and he justifies his shootings since “it was either them or us.” Toby is shaken up because he says nobody was supposed to get hurt. Tanner assesses Toby’s wound and says he will be okay. He then says he needs Toby to reach down into his cowboy roots, and, for the sake of his boys, he must be “mountain lion mean.”
The townspeople are in pursuit and, after the Rangers hear about the robbery, they head for Post. Tanner stops their truck, pulls out a high powered assault rifle, and scares off the citizens with a volley of bullets. These ammunition fueled scenes appear to want to undermine the NRA argument that a good person with a gun will defeat a bad person with a gun. In this story, it’s difficult to clearly define who is the good guy and who is the bad one. Also, when such lethal arsenals are available, it’s easy for the “bad” guy to be better armed. What you wind up with here is an all out war that has the potential to create lots of collateral damage.

The brothers stop at the other car, and Tanner tells Toby to exchange the rest of the money at the casino, since it was Toby’s plan, and he should stick with it, since, he says, it was a good one. The brothers are really saying goodbye here. Tanner wants to split up and sacrifice himself, never having seen himself as being socially redeemable. The heat is on and he wants to ensure Toby’s sons’ well being. The men say they love each other, but then cut the sentimentality by manning up, each telling the other to “Go f… yourself,” as they laugh.

The police follow Tanner, since his truck was the one that was involved in the robbery, and Toby drives past the cops in the other car. Marcus boasts to Alberto that he knew about the bank in Post, as he was using “White man’s intuition.” Alberto won’t allow Marcus the satisfaction of being right by saying “Sometimes a blind pig finds a truffle,” basically calling Marcus a lowly animal who got lucky. Their humor will contrast with what happens next. As a parallel example of the calm before the storm, Tanner sings cowboy songs just before his deadly encounter. Tanner sets his truck on fire while up on a hilly road, and makes it head down and explode against the cop car that is approaching, blocking access further up. Tanner has a rifle and opens up on the police. As they take cover behind the police vehicles, Marcus rightly observes there should be two robbers, not one. In the middle of insultingly telling Alberto that he should go up there and tomahawk Tanner, Alberto is shot to death. We can see how much Marcus truly cared for his partner as he tears up and is momentarily distraught. But then he is on a determined path, getting the civilians to back up their trucks and asking one to get him on higher ground so he can shoot Tanner. Being in typical vigilante Texan mode, the man says he will have the guy field dressed and on his hood. But, Marcus wants to do it himself, keeping the desire for justice (and revenge) legal.

Toby, bleeding, approaches a cop roadblock, and covers up his wound. He, unlike his brother, can play it cool. He has no record, so after his license and registration are checked, he is able to pass through. Back at the shootout, the cowboy helping Marcus says the Ranger is pretty winded and he offers to take out Tanner for him. “Not on your life. He’s mine,” says Marcus. Just before Marcus shoots him dead, Tanner says, “Lord of the Plains. That’s me.” He sees himself as a free renegade until the end. But, the film shows that despite the allure of having no restraints on one’s freedom, and even if one is involved in a just cause, we live in a society, and when the individual brings harm upon others, that person must suffer the consequences. Marcus is thrilled that he got his man, but he then cries because Tanner’s death doesn’t make up for the loss of his partner.

Toby sees what happened to his brother on the TV at the casino. He has the chips next to him and goes to cash them in. He shows up at the bank where the loan officer says he’s a lucky guy, having enough casino winnings, to “just in the nick of time,” pay off the debt before the sleazy bank could foreclose and own the land with its newly found oil. Toby pressures the loan officer to send the lien release that day. Heeding the advice of the lawyer, Toby asks about making the ethically challenged  bank complicit in his plan by setting it up as the trust manager. That way, Toby gets the bad guys to protect the property for his boys that they tried to take.

Even though he is now retired, Marcus still looks up Tanner’s record of being incarcerated, for among other charges, bank robbery. It appears as if the law, knowing how bad Tanner’s father was, let his son off for shooting his dad, blaming it instead on the flimsy possibility that it was an accident. There was nothing linking Toby to the robberies. The waitress, Jenny Ann, said she couldn’t identify Toby, obviously protecting him. The District Attorney didn’t want to pursue a case against Toby, who has no record, and who logically had no motive since his property will be making more money from the oil company than what was stolen. The bank at this point runs the trust, and gets paid fees, so they don’t want to rock the boat.
Marcus carries his concealed pistol and visits Toby’s ranch. Toby is there with a rifle. Men are always confrontational and armed here. Marcus says flat out he’s the man that killed Toby’s brother. Toby knows about him and says he’s retired and is trespassing, and knows Marcus also is probably armed. Still, ironically, given the circumstances, he shows Southern hospitality by offering Marcus a beer, while continuing to hold his rifle. The scene emphasizes the duality of nicety and menace noted before that is present in this culture. Marcus says Tanner liked robbing banks and shooting it up. He says that he would have spent all the money from the heists just so he could rob again. But, not Toby. Marcus observes that there was nothing newly bought at the ranch, the only new things there being the oil rigs. Marcus, even though he can’t prove it, wants to know why Toby participated in the crimes. Toby asks if Marcus has a family, but the now ex-Ranger says his partner did. Marcus wants to make the point that by Toby putting his own family first, he harmed another’s. Toby says he didn’t kill his partner, but Marcus disagrees because Toby was the planner and set it all in motion. Toby says his grandparents were poor, so were his parents, and he had always been poor. He says that poverty “is like a disease passing from generation to generation. But not my boys, not anymore.” Toby wanted to break the cycle, and he did it the only way he knew he could, outside of the law. He says he never killed anyone but he’ll start with Marcus if he wants to try and grab his pistol before he can shoot him with the rifle.

Luckily for both men, Debbie shows up with the boys. Marcus says he will be leaving and Toby says so will he. Marcus seems surprised that Toby doesn’t live there, and we assume he sees that Toby has not committed these acts for personal gain. Toby says he just helps fix up the place and will be there the next day to help his son with homework, showing his attempts to make up for his past neglect. Toby tells Marcus he has a house in town if he wants to finish this conversation, which means if he wants to shoot it out. Toby wants to be done with the aftermath of the robberies and deaths. Marcus says he’ll never be done with it. Marcus says what Toby has done will haunt him until he dies. But, he says Toby won’t be alone, because it will haunt him, too. Toby’s intimidating response is, “If you stop by, maybe I’ll give you peace.” Marcus, also standing his ground, says, “Maybe. Maybe I’ll give it to you.” Perhaps Tanner was right when he said nobody gets away with anything, ever. There is always a price to be paid when we do harm to each other.

The next post will take a quick look at some recent films.