The Piano in a similar vein to The Pianist (2002, Roman Polanski) relies heavily on the soundtrack or rather the music that is so integral to the make up of the protagonist. Music is their lifeline and in the case of Ada it is her main form of communication with the world. The music is exquisite but then you’d expect nothing less given the title of the film.
The scenery is luscious but then the film is set in New Zealand and as you all know from my Lord of the Rings (2001, 2002, 2003, Peter Jackson) post I have an enormous love affair with the country. The Maori are wonderful even if portrayed as a primitive people. I especially love the two who mimic both Ada and Alisdair.
The scenes between Ada and Alisdair (played by Holly Hunter and Sam Neill) are delightfully awkward, not only at the start of the film but all the way through. Holly Hunter is mesmerizing as the beautiful yet mute Ada. Her big dark eyes are so emotive. The scenes between her and her daughter Flora (a very young Anna Paquin) are often silent, with the two communicating through sign language. They often mirror each other in their actions. Not only are there scenes where silence predominates but also scenes conducted in Maori, devoid of subtitles. However I think this just adds to the richness of sound within the film as Maori is such a musical and beautiful language. The film starts and ends with a voice over by Ada, her internal voice at any rate, given that she is mute, which gives the film a sense of completion, of coming full circle.
Harvey Keitel’s George Baines appears a man of two worlds dressed as a white man and yet living as a native with the Maoris. His facial Ta Moko is something of a rarity as his is not of Maori blood. It’s a bizarre kind of film becoming somewhat erotic once Ada begins teaching George. The piano is so much more than an instrument for Ada, it’s a part of her, an extension if you will. George seems to understand this about her, which Alisdair does not. Ultimately she forms a closer relationship, albeit an unusual one, with George than she does her husband. The piano and Ada become almost a fetish for George. There is also a voyeuristic element with Alisdair watching George and Ada.
I found I had far more sympathy for George than I did Alisdair. I mean Alisdair cuts off Ada’s finger, harming her not only physically but emotionally as well by rendering her unable to play her beloved piano, and then almost rapes her, all out of love supposedly. it’s a dramatic ending with Ada almost dying. However it does end with a happily ever after. What may have started out as a fetish becomes something much deeper and leads to Ada and George building a life together.
“Setting out to be politically correct, erotic, and romantic at the same time, The Piano inevitably bite off more than it can possibly chew, but winds up stimulating passionate feelings nonetheless.” (823, Jonathan Rosenbaum, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) I’m not entirely sure how I feel about The Piano but I think that ultimately I liked it. I can definitely say that my favourite aspect was the Maori people, especially when they are singing towards the end.