The Pianist Essay
The film The Pianist is about a man, Szpilman, living in Poland during the war. It tells his story as one of the themes in the film is clearly the holocaust. The film presents the horrors of the holocaust in the experience of one man, Wladysaw Szpilman as he hides from the Nazis. The film makes an honest approach to the condition of holocaust. It presents the shades of humanity in between the good and the bad. It shows how the war gave people a chance to triumph over the holocaust and their humanity while others to succumb to it and humanity. Circumstances force people to do strange things.
The war genre requires a lot of sensitivity to enable the audience to put themselves in the shoes of a character as he interacts with his environment. The point of view is quite important to achieve this. In my analysis I intend to find out if the point of view of Szpilman helps the movie achieve the desired outcome. The film begins with music as Szpilman plays a piano for Polish radio. Even though the scene is interrupted by a bomb, Szpilman remains momentarily caught up in his music. His devotion to music becomes the strength he needs to survive because despite the horrific circumstances, he does not give up playing for the radio again.
As he tells the SS officer who helps him, he wants to play for the polish radio. By virtue of his dreams, he believes the war will end even when an SS officer asked him what he wanted to do after the war. Music and all art thus come out in the film as worthy weapons against the struggle. In terms of leading actor the film has Adrien Brody play Szpilman. The actor as the film opens is caught up in fulfilling his dreams of music. He seems a little preoccupied and absorbed. He is a regular guy. The lead actor gives the film its perspective. We see the war through his eyes and his experiences.
In the span of the film, contrary to what one would expect from a war film, he remains more alone and does not rise to become an astonishing person who saves the day and lots of human life. Instead his main achievement is that he manages to remain concealed and survives the invasion of the Nazis. The lead actor is not a conventional hero. He is mostly passive trying to understand what is going on in the world around him. As we accompany him in the movie, we get locked up with him in hiding places and watch him ravaged by the war as he loses weight, confused and fall to pieces.
Adrien performs his role by being totally immersed in his character. How he moves and talks and acts reveals the transformation he is undergoing including losing weight as his character gets starved and severe malnutrition. He is striking in that he represents the humanity of many and the story of survival is the survival of humanity against ravages of war. The leading actor is not about being a super good character but embodiment of bare human circumstance and the amazing journey of survival during terrible circumstances. The film does not give in to the cultural assumptions that all the Jews were good people and all the Germans bad people.
The leading actor as well as other suffering victims are not all of humanity. They too are problematic and are not represented as saints. The suffering they underwent is horrific by virtue of being human despite what kind of people they are. The film represents in addition the reality that some Nazis had humanity too. An SS officer took care of Szpilman for the last stretch of his survival. The mise-en-scene of the film displays great aspects of setting, costumes and make-up and staging. Portions of the film are set and shot in Germany using the old building and barracks that were actually used during the war.
Much of the film was filmed in Praga district while some was filmed in Germany’s Babelsberg film studios. Here a recreation of the ghetto was made. The ruins of the ghetto were also filmed inside an army base in the former Soviet. That effectively creates a real feeling to the film. The set creates a backdrop to the life of the prisoners. The costumes clearly identify the time period of changes that were occurring as people lost more and more. In addition the costumes and make-up help set the stage for action character. The point of view used in the film is that of Szpilman the leading actor.
While the story begins there are many characters but quickly the point of view of the leading actor takes over. After his escape, Szpilman eyes become what we see the world through. The film unrolls with scenes of Szpilman interacting with his confined world. We see him trying to keep from the Nazis and basically try to survive. In the meantime, the world inside his head comes on and off as he hears music in his head. The director , Roman Polanski, gives a true and brilliant film by being true to the autobiography story of the real life Szphilman. He brings to the film his own past.
In his childhood, Roman Polanksi underwent a similar situation. During the war, he escaped Krakow Ghetto. This was after his mother died. He hid for the duration of the war in a Polish farmer’s barn. He survived the war along with his father. He therefore draws from his personal experience as well as his experience with other film that have similar themes. In addition Polanski has had experience with films that deal with confinement and its disturbing effects on people. This is in his movies The Tenant, Repulsion and Bitter Moon. Long shots characterize the movie.
In several scenes Szphilman looks at the outside world as we look at him. Through the shots the audience gets to see him processing the world. He stares at people being hunted down and killed. He gets little glimpses of the world and his numbness easily comes out through the long shots. Aspects of technical elements in the film are used to highlight the themes. Low lighting and shadows create a feeling of limited vision. When Szpilman is in hiding, we see him covered in darkness. The indignity of living in subhuman condition underscore the humiliation many holocaust victims were exposed to.
As he moves from hiding place and scavenges for food the flooding of light highlight how deserted he is. It is all bright and empty around him and no matter which way he looks he is met with emptiness. Dialogue in the film especially as Szpilman interacts with others show the effect of the long suffering on the victims. Forced to be quiet for long periods of time and unable to fully understand what is happening, dialogue is kept at minimal and no revealing. The characters can not express the depth of their experiences and they preserve themselves though direct dialogue.
The sound in the film is kept at bare and music at minimal. There are no swelling scores allowing for the audience to stay with their bare emotions. The piano even when ‘silent’ is a beautiful addition to the film. When Szpilman comes across a piano in his hiding place he finds he can not play lest he will be discovered. However, he moves him fingers over the keys and the audience hears the music he is playing in his mind. The nostalgia and hope that Szpilman harbors comes through. The audience glimpses the source of strength for Szpilman’s survival.
In comparing this film to others in the same genre some differences can be seen. One of the differences with another movie in the genre, Schindler’s List, is that the pianist is a film that is based on one person. Schindler’s List is broader in dealing with the holocaust in terms of the point of view. The pianist narrows down the holocaust by concentration on one man’s story. From him the audience can understand the holocaust and not the other way round. Schindler’s list has the story of two people; Schindler and Goeth. The cast in The Pianist is also heavily European while Schindler’s List is not.
Another difference in that while the hero clearly comes out in Schindler’s List The Pianist does not give to the leading actor the usual hero traits. While Schindler is clearly a hero Szpilman is not a hero by overt means. He is a hero in choosing to survive and simply not giving up despite the difficulties. In addition, The Pianist does not draw clear lines between the good and the bad or assign blame. While it is clear there are bad people killing and hurting others, the film is largely non judgmental. Having watched the film, I feel that The Pianist is a great film.
It lives up to its potential because one is completely caught up in Szpilman’s story and begins to understand the holocaust in that light. While other movies show the great suffering and heroes of the war, this film shows the quiet heroism that might go unnoticed by many, yet it is this sort of heroism that was more rampant than the celebrated one. The film is also capturing in the use of elements. The shooting and the delivery come together and the audience gets lost in the film without getting caught up in the ‘vehicle’ that is the technicalities of the film.
The film deeply touched me and made me realize that war is terrible not just in what it physically does to people but also because of the psychological and traumatic effects. One of its effects is that it created a disturbance in me. I did not feel that someone came and rescued the day because for many holocaust victims their day was not saved. The realism of the film was quite refreshing. At the same time the film restores hope in humanity. Despite all the horrific events during the war, there were ample cases of people risking life to protect others. Many people helped Szpilman including the SS officer who was taking a great risk.
Just as some people can stoop low beyond belief, so can others rise above expectations. In the end, the human spirit rises up against its adversity and that is the best effect of the film considering its genre. Szpilman’s point of view enables the audience to see the holocaust keenly without getting carried away by too much information or characters. References. Bordwell David and Thomson Kristin, Film Art: An introduction. 8 ed. (New York: McGraw- Hill Higher education, 2006). ‘Schindler’s List’: Internet Movie Data Base. 1990-2010. Web. 16 July 2010. ‘The Pianist’: Internet Movie Data base. 1990-2010. Web. 17 July 2010.