Amon Goeth, Schindler's List, and the Portrayal of the Former in the Latter.

Inthis thread Lissener and I got to talking about the portrayal of Amon Goeth (the commander of the Nazi labor camp at Plaszow in the movie Schindler’s List.) So as not to hijack the thread, I’m starting this one.

Lissener claims that Goeth was “portrayed as entirely insane, and therefore not responsible for his own actions”. I don’t believe this is true, and that the character’s actions in the film are consistent with what we know about him as a person, so that his portrayal wasn’t inaccurate.

I’m not stating anything about the quality of the film itself, or asserting that a person should like the movie (although, I personaly think it’s a quality film). This is just about the portrayal of Goeth in the film.

There’s no question that Goeth is evil and has delusions of grandeur, but to label him as “insane” and therefore not responsible for his own actions (as lissener claims the movie asserts) is–IMHO–glib and enormously reductive of a complex and sophisticated chacterization and performance. Goeth is at turns depicted as callous, power-hungry, lustful, wily, practical, insecure, gullible, and torn between what he “knows” (Jews are vermin) and what he sees (that Jews live and suffer in a way that almost resembles humanity). He may have a streak of (to put it liberally) benevolence that’s rooted in a mini-God complex, but that doesn’t make him crazy (and that streak is quite short-lived anyway). He is the king of his domain (the camp), and part of a larger movement that intends to conquer the world, so his attitude and ambition isn’t so much delusional as completely narcissistic (with a healthy dose of politically-motivated self-interest as well).

It’s no secret that lissener doesn’t like the film (which I myself find a bit overrated and simplistic at times). And while I find him a generally astute and knowledgeable filmlover, I find most of his readings and assertions about this specific movie colored by his own distaste and not particularly convincing when actually looking for support (beyond some superficial trappings) within the text itself. He may be completely convinced that his reading is the “right” one, but for me, that’s fish four days old.

But for me, this is a potential can of worms waiting to happen, so I’ve said my piece and I’ll let a more passionate Spielberg/Schindler defender step in if lissener wants to explore this discussion more in-depth.

I’m not convinced he was portrayed as insane.

To me he came off like the type of man he’d have to be. Cruel, aloof and having to deal with the cognative dissonence that comes from being a man who is supposed to believe his inmates are not human and deserve their fate while finding himself attracted to many of these “sub humans” or worse seeing that they are not all inferior.

The scene that comes to mind is, when the woman engineer complains about the foundation of the barracks being built. She warns that the barracks would have to be torn down and rebuilt. He shoots her for standing up to German officers yet orders them to follow her previous suggestion because he knew she was right.

I’m sure he believed in the Nazi ideals and racial theoies but it is one thing to hate a people you never really meet or are being isolated from you its another when you are being exposed to them daily. There has to be moments of their humanity that slips past a persons hatred.

That kind of thing has to make someone act in unusual ways to protect their core ideals.
He knew what he was doing was wrong… Still he chose to follow the party line.

That scene is taken from the book. The woman who’s killed, btw, was named Diana Reiter. She was, in reality, shot by Albert Hujar. I don’t remember if the movie or book has Hujar shooting her on his own or being ordered by Goeth.

And what if he was insane? What does it say about the Nazis, if they put a madman like Goeth in such a position of power?

To me, the movie was not about the conflict between Schindler and Goeth, but rather the conflict between Schindler and the Nazi system as a whole. Goeth was nothing more than a sample of the type of people who carried out the Nazi’s will - a typical death camp commander, nothing more. Treating him as an individual human being would be according him respect he didn’t deserve.

Well that would be comfortable, wouldn’t it? The Nazis were all inhuman madmen and that’s why the 1930s and 40s in Germany were such a terrible time.

Sadly, however, there were sane people doing insane things. The Nazis philosophy was and remains odious and evil but it was attractive to average people of the time. You have to realize the holocaust did not happen over night, it was all small steps that people took eventually leading to men like Goeth running camps designed to exterminate people.

Each time the ante was upped they could look back at what they did before and justify their actions. Either the German people supported and aided the final solution or comforted themselves by chosing their comfort level (boycotting shops, smashing windows, removing rights, removing property,ghettoizing[sp?] the population shipping them to camps) then opting out once they felt that twinge of conscience and thereafter ignoring what was happening or at least pretended it didn’t happen.

I’m not saying that the Nazis were insane. Not at all. I’m saying that they encouraged people to act out their most base impulses, so that the cruelest, maddest rose to the top.

As a nation, they made a conscious decision to go insane. That excuses nothing.

I don’t feel that he was portrayed as insane.

I think ‘we’ look at what he did and assume that he was insane. I think no matter how any actor approached that role, some people would interpert it as being played as “insane”.

I don’t know if the officer who shot her was named in the movie, but it was not Goeth; he does order another officer to murder her.

As to the OP, everyone has a different definition of the term “insane,” which makes the question a bit open, but obviously Goeth was not “entirely insane” by any definition an inteligent person would normally use. Goeth was not suffering from any sort of psychotic break from reality. He did not suffer from hallucinations or any of that sort of thing. He was fully aware of what he was doing. Goeth was quite aware of reality and his place in it; he knew right from wrong, but simply didn’t feel the distinction was important, which of course is what the crux of Nazism is, which of course is what Goeth is meant to represent.

Incidentally, I hate to nitpick, but Goeth didn’t run a “Death camp” as it would normally be defined. The Nazi camp empire had many different types of camps; Goeth’s was, strictly speaking, a labor camp, where Jews and other undesirables were worked to death at varying rates depending on the needs of the slave labor pool. Death camps were places where people were shipped specifically for the purpose of murdering them, and there were six primary ones; Aushwitz-Birkenau, Sobibor, Treblinka, Belzec, Chemno, and Majdanek.

The fact of the matter is that evil isn’t very complicated. It isn’t very interesting, either, at least to me. I’m far more interested in the more complex logical, moral, ethical and psychological constructs humans built themselves that *prevent * them from doing evil, or even - as in Oskar Schindler’s case - compell them to do good. Those are the true “insanities”.

Goeth was definately insane. He shot people for the hell of it. That was what made the death camps so scarey-the jews assumed that the nazis were rational-that they (the Jews) could survive, if they kept their heads down and worked hard for the nazis. Only it wasn’t that way-you could be killed for having dirty shoes, or not working fast enough…or simply arousing Goeth’s attention. It was a truly insane world.

It’s a while since I’ve seen the whole film, but my memory is that Goeth is largely presented as what happens to a human being when they are given absolute and arbitrary power of life and death. The camp provides him with an environment in which he has the power to satisfy his every passing whim and appetite. He has been reduced to an impulsive demigod.
This is all most explicit in the conversation where Schindler persuades him to experiment with forgiveness by couching the matter as the exercise of this power. Goeth has no other moral compass left and when he does try the experiment it is another of his whims. Indeed, all of Schinder’s manipulations of him work by using his whims and moods.
What the film doesn’t show is whether he is brutal because this power has corrupted him or whether it has merely removed the constraints on existing brutal attitudes. Not least because it tells us virtually nothing of his past, so we cannot see how he got into this state.

Worth noting that David Crowe’s recentish huge Schindler biography goes into the life and career of the real Amon Göth in detail. A hardened Nazi from a young age and early recruit to the SS, he was very much a true believer and nasty piece of work, though able to be charming. It’s abundantly clear that he really did personally shoot many, many prisoners in the camp impulsively and randomly.

I haven’t seen this film since it was in the theater, and I won’t watch it again.

But it’s unfortunate that one of the least substantial points in my “position” about this movie is the single point you’ve chosen to focus on; the rest of my posts you excerpted this one point from say a great deal more about my problems with this movie.

Even if we eschew such problematic terms as “insane”–which admittedly cloud the debate–my feeling remains that, among many many problems that make this film an infuriating abomination for me, one of the lesser problems is that Spielberg’s flagship Nazi is cartoonishly inhuman. Even if we agree, for discussion, that he’s sane, he’s certainly portrayed as an individual with a personal, individual sadism; an anomaly. There is no attempt to place him within, or even understand, the sociological context that created the real Goeth; the context that made the majority of mundane, next-door-neighbor, butcher, baker, candlestick-maker Germans “Hitler’s Willing Executioners.”

I agree that–certainly coupled with my refusal to re-watch the movie and present a detailed defense–the use of the word “insane” was simplistic and reductive. Nonetheless, I still believe that the outrageously “other” portrayal of Goeth’s psychology minimizes the systemic monstrosity that created the Holocaust.

But again, that’s the least of my objections to this travesty of a film.