In both cases, my initial non-viewing was purely circumstantial. I just somehow never found myself watching these particular movies. In the case of Lawrence of Arabia, I'd certainly like to see it, but it's something like 43 hours long, so it rarely shows up on cable. Maybe someone will give me the DVD for Christmas or my birthday, and I'll take a few vacation days off to stare at Peter O'Toole's blue eyes. It could happen.
But Schindler's List? I can confidently say that I'm never going to watch it. As a cultural icon, I can appreciate its existence -- the film illuminated the horrors of the holocaust at a time when much of the world seemed happy to let it start fading into memory. It inspired programs that recorded the audio histories of survivors, and raised awareness of global genocide. For these things alone, it's a valuable piece of cinema.
But it's also a movie. Just a movie. One that I'll never watch.
The reasons I never saw it in the first place are simple. When it was released at the end of 1993, I had a lot of other things on my mind. For starters, I'd been working 60-hour weeks as a chef, and rarely got to the movies. When I wasn't at work, I was usually sleeping, leading to a rare gap in my pop-culture knowledge. The only reason I saw any of the first season of The X-Files was because I was occasionally dating a guy who refused to miss it. For someone who's been a lifelong addict of TV and film, this was a freakish drought for me.
Secondly, Schindler's List was in theaters when my mother was hospitalized and then died, so I took an extended leave of absence from work to deal with all of the legal nonsense, like sorting through her lifetime of belongings and selling her house. If I did decide to take some time for myself and go to a movie as a diversion, I can assure you that Schindler's List wouldn't have been my choice.
But that doesn't explain why I haven't seen it since, or why I don't intend to. That's a little more complicated. Mostly, it has to do with my feelings about Steven Spielberg.
I'm a devoted fan of early Spielberg. I love Raiders of the Lost Ark and Close Encounters, and I believe Jaws is one of the greatest American films ever made. But his work in the late 1980s got problematic. I loathed Temple of Doom, and I'm not fond of his sentimental side (The Color Purple, Always). Hook was a mess, and despite some great visual gee-whizzery, Jurassic Park left me cold.
Then came the preachy trifecta of Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan, and Amistad, summed up best as "Nazis? Bad. War? Bad. Slavery? Bad." Way to take a controversial stand on hot-button topics there, Steve.
It's a personal thing, and not a judgment on anyone who genuinely enjoyed these films, but me, I just didn't care what he had to say on the topic. Still don't, really.
Also, and I say this having obviously not seen the film, I hate the very idea of Spielberg using that touch of color in the film, the girl's red dress, as a way of having the main character recognize one person in a pile of corpses. It's Spielberg at his most trite, and also indicates that the director himself felt that mass genocide alone isn't enough to inspire sympathy. No, there must be one special dead person, and a child at that, to make us care. That's offensive in so many ways, and manipulative, and condescending.
The girl in the red dress is, I know, inspired by a story told at the trial of Adolf Eichmann (you'll find it here) and I understand why Spielberg used it. But as a cinematic device it's painfully precious, even if you know the source.
Of course, there's always the possibility that it works better on film than in concept. It's highly likely that Schindler's List is as brilliantly conceived, acted, and shot as the 96 percent of positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes indicate. I'll never know. And I'm fine with that.