‘The Pianist’ is a cinematic masterpiece by the Polish director Roman Polanski. One of the key ideas that appear throughout much of the film is that of ‘hope being instrumental in our survival’. This idea is portrayed through Wladyslaw Szpilman, a Polish pianist, as he struggles for survival in Warsaw as everybody that he once knew and everything that he once had is lost. The idea of ‘hope being instrumental in our survival’ is worth learning about as it allows the audience to realise the importance of hope in todays society – and to understand how Polanski uses music to symbolise ‘hope’ for Szpilman in the film.
Polanski effectively utilises an array of visual and oral text features such as music, dialogue, and lighting to build further emphasis on this theme. ‘The Pianist’ is an honest depiction of the events that occurred during the Holocaust, through the eyes of Wladyslaw Szpilman, a Jewish concert pianist living in Warsaw, Poland. As the movie starts we see him in a radio studio beautifully playing the piano. But then the tanks start shooting, the bombs start falling, and the studio is damaged. He can no longer avoid the rapidly escalating situation. Germany is invading his homeland.
His time as a concert pianist and radio performer has come to a sudden end. The first half of the movie focuses on the impact of the war on him and his family’s lives and the suffering of others, whilst the second half purely revolves around Szpilman’s struggle for survival and the hope in which he draws from music. Polanski heavily emphasises this idea, getting across the message that Szpilman would not be alive if were not for the hope in which he holds to – even if at times if at times it is by a tiny thread. The most obvious feature used to enhance the idea of ‘hope being instrumental in our survival’ is that of music.
After being forced to desert his family and having to live in isolation with his survival being questioned almost every day, it is perhaps only the thoughts of music that keep Szpilman going. This is idea becomes more apparent when Szpilman discovers a piano in one of the flats he is hiding in. He is unable to play because he will give himself away so we instead watch his fingers move across the air above the piano’s keys as whilst the sound plays in his head and too the viewer. Throughout the film we also see Szpilman pretending to play the piano as he taps his finger across his legs.
It is moments such as these that help to maintain Szpilman’s willingness to survive by keeping silent, but also how piano gives fills him with the hope that is instrumental in his survival. In other scenes such as when a German officer asks Szpilman to play piano for him, and allows him to live because of his immense talent we begin to realise that Szpilman’s hope – music, does not only help him to survive mentally, but also physically as he can share the gift that he has to others. It is also important to note that Polanski only music by the Polish composer, Chopin is used throughout ‘The Pianist’.
His sad and evocative music brings upon a sad mood, yet one with a hint of hope and with this, the director can more vividly express his ideas a way that dialogue or action cannot. Another oral feature used throughout the film to express the director’s idea of ‘hope being instrumental to our survival’ is dialogue. Whilst Szpilman’s actions are usually used to express the director’s ideas, there are multiple instances where dialogue is used effectively to express them. In one scene around a third of the way into the film, Mr. Lipa, a businessman comes round to the Szpilman’s family’s house to make an offer on their piano.
The majority of the family think the amount of money he is offering for such a beautiful piano is absurd, but when he says, “2,000 and my advice is to take it. What will you do when you’re hungry? Eat the piano? ” Szpilman comes to the realisation that whilst music is what he needs to survive mentally, it is in fact food that he needs to survive physically and accept this offer. From this point in the film onwards, Polanski distinguishes physical survival from mental survival for Szpilman and begins to enforce the idea of ‘hope is instrumental to our survival’.
We learn that Szpilman will go to all efforts to survive, shown with dialogue, “[taking off his watch] Here, sell this. Food is more important than time” but it is his hope that he will one day be able to play piano again and be happy that is instrumental to his survival. This is shown later in the film when a German Officer asks him what he’s going to do when the war is over and he replies, “Play piano again”. It is the simple, but effective use of dialogue such as this that mimic realistic situations in comparison to the Hollywood theatrics used in other films that establish an exaggerated, bleak atmosphere.
Lighting is another visual feature that is used to good effect to emphasise the idea of hope being instrumental in (Szpilman’s) survival. Throughout the second half of the film, where Szpilman is trapped within solitude – with the hope in which he holds on to hanging by the thread; Polanski uses dark and obsolete colours with a bluish tint that combined create a very strange and desolate atmosphere. While the dark obsolete lighting clearly portrays Szpilman’s pessimism, it is the bluish tint evident that is like the ‘silver lining’ and shows the viewer the hope that Szpilman is still holding on to.
In one particular scene, where Szpilman plays piano for the first time in months to a Nazi Officer, moonlight with the distinct blue tint is cast over the piano and his hands as he plays. Polanski creates this effect to make the link for the audience that music is the hope that has been instrumental to his (Szpilman’s) survival and is the tiny thread that he has been hanging onto when everybody he knows and everything that he once had has been taken from him.
In the film ‘The Pianist’, Polanski effectively employed the use of the visual and oral features: music, dialogue and lighting to better communicate his idea of ‘hope being instrumental in our survival’. These three features come together to allow the audience to truly realise the importance of hope being the sole factor that keeps Szpilman alive, and that his hope is symbolised through music. Polanski so skilfully uses these features to show rather than tell the importance of this idea and through this it is little wonder that the movie is considered a modern classic.
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