The Pianist

Johnson 1 Kayla Johnson Prof. Hirchfelder, K-213 ENG2102, Sec. 06 26 March 2013 Scene Analysis Paper Musical Dependency The 2002 film, The Pianist directed by Roman Polanski focuses on the hardships of a well-known, local concert pianist, Wladyslaw Szpilman. Wladyslaw Szpilman is played by actor Adrien Brody, who does an excellent job portraying both the warmhearted side of Szpliman and the desperate struggling side we see later on in the film. The film is based on Szpilman’s book, The Pianist where he discusses true events he underwent during the German takeover of Warsaw.
He was one of twenty survivors out of the 360,000 Jewish people killed from Warsaw, Poland. “Passion for Survival in Polanski’s The Pianist” by Diana Diamond reflects the direct and indirect use of music throughout the film. Diamond uses multiple scenes and circumstances to support her thoughts on Szpilman’s characterization as a pianist. Throughout The Pianist, Szpilman goes through a significant amount of trauma, whether it be done to him personally, his family or to strangers in his surroundings. Polanski uses many horrific scenes to prove just how brutal the German police are.
Diamond identifies one in particular in her article, which stands out to me as well. “The Nazi’s disrupt a family at dinner, tossing an old man in a wheelchair out of the window for failing to rise when they enter and Johnson 2 shooting the rest of the family as they run down the street” (427). The German police clearly have no mercy on any of the Jewish citizens of Warsaw. This is only the beginning of the twisted and remorseless actions the German’s render upon the Jews. After about two hours into the film, Szpilman has reached his lowest point.

He has been bombed out of just about every hiding place he can find, escaped control under Jewish police and is now struggling to survive in an abandoned house. The director, Polanski, throws certain elements into the scene to depict him this way. He is unshaven, unbathed, and noticeably weak. His cloths are too big for him, signifying he has lost weight from eating so scantily. He is even limping because he was hurt just by jumping over a five foot fence. Szpilman has gone through every obstacle to be thrown at him until he breaks.
Stumbling through this huge house he finds a single can of food and eagerly begins to search for something to open it. He finally comes across a fireplace poker. As he tries to stab his way into the can it falls to the ground and the camera enters an extreme close-up on it. By using a close-up we have nothing else to look at and nothing else to think about aside from this fallen can. Suddenly we see feet and the camera slowly tilts upward creating suspense until it reaches an extremely calm yet serious German officer.
The officer speaks, “What are you doing here? ” At first, Szpilman at a loss for words, in fear does not answer. “Who are you? ’ the officer asks, ‘Understand? ” When Szpilman assures him he does the officer repeats, “What are you doing? ” “I was… trying to open this can. ” Szpilman mumbles out. Johnson 3 Soon after the officer asks, “What do you do? ” “I am… I was, a pianist” Szpilman responds with every bit of dignity he has left. (2:01-2:03) The man standing in this scene looks entirely different from the spirited concert pianist we knew.
It is almost hard for the audience to view Szpilman as the same man from the beginning of the film. However, with the proper use of dialogue Polanski reminds us he is still that man, he is a pianist. The scene directly following is used in Diana Diamond’s, “Passion for Survival in Polanski’s The Pianist” for music as a symbol throughout the film. Music is often used in films as a background component. It can create a sense of joy, distress, horror, even confidence can be captured with the use of a simple melody. Diamond finds music to be a source of uplift for Szpilman during the overall film.
She exclaims, “We see him rescued from the edge of extinction, not only by the altruism of the German officer, but also by his own reconnection with his artistic power” (429). By playing the piano at this time Szpilman is proving to the officer he is who he says he is and therefore, unknowingly saving him in more ways than one. As Szpilman plays the piano after all this time he remembers who is he and that saves him more than anything. Diamond uses multiple examples to show how important music is to Szpilman. The importance of it is, in fact, shown as the first scene of the movie and sets the standard throughout the entire film. When the Nazi’s invade Warsaw and German bombs explode in the radio studio where Szpilman is performing, he persists in playing Chopin’s nocturne in C sharp minor, refusing to flee until shrapnel lacerates his face” (429). Even through a bomb attack Szpilman will not stop playing until he is given the signal from his partner that he has no other choice. Johnson 4 Many parts of the film also use music at times when words aren’t enough. The film is constantly relating music back to Szpilman’s father. Towards the beginning the family decides to hide their money in the father’s violin.
Thus symbolizing the sense of security a father carries in the family. Later we see his violin being violently taken from him by a Nazi guard right before deportation, where he loses all control over his families’ security just like losing his violin. Diamond reflects the impact of this scene on Szpilman, “the instrapsychic trauma of the son witnessing the father’s impending destruction, the state of utter desolation and remorse over this, and the restoration of the father and paternal authority internally in the son’s will to live and survive” (430).
Music acts as the symbol of Wladyslaw’s relationship with his father, it brings them together. After Szpilman must watch his father so helpless and defeated it fuels him to survive in honor of him. Roman Polanski’s film, The Pianist and Diana Diamond’s article, “Passion for Survival in Polanski’s The Pianist” bring together the symbolism of music during the film. We enjoy the beautiful sounds of Wladyslaw Szpilman playing the piano while also understanding how music exemplifies his strength in survival throughout the Nazi’s takeover of Warsaw.
Szpilman used music to remember who he was when he was lost the most and also to remember who his father was. He survives and lives on as a musician in his memory. Works Cited Boggs, Joseph. Petrie, Dennis. The Art of Watching Films. 7th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2008. Print. Diamond, Diana. “Passion for Survival in Polanski’s The Pianist. ” Psychoanalytic Inquiry 27. 4 (2007): 425-39. Print. The Pianist. Dir. Roman Polanski. Perf. Adrien Brody. 2002. DVD.

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