One of the most compelling images in Steven Spielberg’s ‘The Schindler’s list’ (A movie documenting the true story of how a German businessman Oskar Schindler who comes to the aide of Jewish workers, saving them from Nazi execution) is the girl in the red coat.
Film makers love motifs. They convey notions and make for an interesting visual. Motifs, in cinema add to the narrative through imagery. Sometimes, they may be used like that of a ‘refrain’ in poetry – to expound the central theme. These translate abstract concepts more powerfully than the traditional dialogue exchange.
In ‘The Schindler’s list’, when Oscar Schindler is witnessing the liquidation of a ghetto from atop an adjacent hill, the girl in the red coat compels his attention.
This particular image serves as a catalyst in the narrative of the story. As after witnessing the young girl, the indfferent Oskar Schindler changes for the better. The only colour,in an otherwise monochrome-shot movie (for authenticity and realism) serves as a profound symbol.
His attention drawn to this particular girl evokes a change in him and something within him is compelled to come to the aide of the Jews.
This was an immensely sensitive story, and to bring such a thing to the fore required profound understanding of love and loss. Spielberg refused to take any monetary incentive for making this, and himself feared he could not do justice to the text. (This movie is based on a book, and was adapted to screen by Steven Spielberg.) He even approached director Roman Polanski – who was himself a Holocaust survivor and had lost his mother to it.
The girl in the red coat is real and she is alive
The girl in the red coat, was inspired from a real life Holocaust prisoner Roma Ligocka, who was familiar among the Jews living in the Krakow ghetto by her red winter coat. She happens to be the cousin of Roma Polanski.
She is now an artist who still lives with vestiges of her past experiences haunting her, and she tries to channel her experiences into her art. She was reluctant to watch the movie for the fear of reliving the trauma, but when she did, she felt liberated- she said.
It is true, I wonder. For what Spielberg created is larger than life itself. He documented their fears, their pain , their recovery and foremost their story – forever immortalizing it.