The Pianist (Roman Polanski, 2002)
[Note that will probably be applicable to every post I write: Let me note that there are some SPOILERS (I think there’s a law that that word has to be in capital letters on all blogs) herein. But seriously though, for this movie it’s basically just one thing that anyone who knows any basic information about it would generally kind of know. Like, I knew it before I watched it. And plus, this movie came out in 2002. Whatever.]
[Also, keep commenting with suggestions of stuff to watch! I appreciate all suggestions/other comments.]
Category: Holocaust film. I figure, why not start at the top? The Holocaust is widely regarded as the saddest thing to ever have happened. Countless books, films, other works of art, even entire museums have been created solely for the purpose of trying to comprehend this tragedy. The apotheosis of the Holocaust film genre is widely regarded to be Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List. Other notable examples include Sophie’s Choice, Life is Beautiful, and Jerry Lewis’s never-released (but by all accounts wildly inappropriate) The Day the Clown Cried.
My familiarity with this issue: I am not Jewish, and my family was not directly affected by the Holocaust. But I paid attention in history class, I have seen Schindler’s List, and I have been to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC. I’m up on it.
Plot summary yoinked from IMDb: “The true story of Wladyslaw Szpilman who, in the 1930s, was known as the most accomplished piano player in all of Poland, if not Europe. At the outbreak of the Second World War, however, Szpilman becomes subject to the anti-Jewish laws imposed by the conquering Germans.”
What I thought of the movie: It was really quite good. Adrien Brody was terrific, well-deserving of the Oscar that people only really remember now because he made out with Halle Berry while accepting it. (Roman Polanski also won an Oscar for the film, although apparently he didn’t show up to accept it? Rude.) The movie is nearly two-and-a-half hours long, but it didn’t feel that way. A lot of stuff happens to this guy. I can’t say that I’ll watch it again anytime soon, but I think it’s well-worth people’s time.
I really only have Schindler’s List to go on as a point of comparison for this film, and while they’re both great, they’re also quite different. The character of Oskar Schindler (eventually at least) is an active, heroic figure, directly responsible for saving the lives of over a thousand people. Szpilman, however, is not particularly heroic at all. He's certainly not anti-heroic, but he's a more passive character. The film is about how he survives, moving from place to place, depending on others to bring him food and keep him hidden. He has opportunities to join the underground resistance, but declines, focusing rather on staying alive until the war ends. The movie depicts him realistically and never lionizes him. In my view, this makes Szpilman an extremely interesting, relatable character. Which leads us to…
How I, John Krizel, related to the movie: Fun fact: I play the piano. Like Adrien Brody, I am quite skinny, and we have both been described as “weirdly handsome” (that statement is at least half-true). So for a movie about a guy who experienced the Holocaust, I had a few things in common going into it.
I started to change my tune a bit about two minutes into the movie. The first scene is Szpilman playing a piece by Chopin (I used to play a TON of Chopin. SO MANY SIMILARITIES!) in a Warsaw radio station. He hears an explosion in the distance, but keeps playing. Another explosion rattles the building, knocking him off balance; a third explosion breaks the glass of the studio he’s in, and causes some debris from the ceiling to fall on top of him, and still he keeps playing. The radio engineer/producer guys are waving at him from the next room to stop and get the hell out of the building, and HE KEEPS PLAYING. WHAT. That is some serious commitment right there. I did not share this commitment to my piano playing. One time while I was practicing in the house, our cat brushed past my feet. Startled, I leapt up and ran screaming to my room, where I hid for the better part of the next hour.
On the long list of “things that are true about my life that I did not need to watch a movie to reaffirm,” the phrase, “I would not have fared well during the Holocaust” is near the top. My core values in life are cowardice, fear, and diabetes. But as mentioned earlier, I could almost relate to Szpilman. He did a lot of hiding. Of course, I could not have dealt with the lack of food and entertainment that Szpilman had to go through.
How I felt after the movie ended: All joking aside, The Pianist is a tough movie to watch. Some of the scenes in it are nearly unwatchable, particularly when Szpilman is unwillingly separated from his family as they are being sent away to a concentration camp. Furthermore, Polanski does not reveal the fate of Szpilman’s parents, sisters and brother, who are present throughout much of the first hour of the movie. That was very sad.
The semi-spoiler I alluded to earlier is that Szpilman does, in fact, survive (the film was based on his memoirs). So, yeah, the movie is two-and-a-half hours of pretty much wall-to-wall terrible depressing stuff, but! It’s got a happy ending! Hey now. Still, I’m still pretty depressed now, a couple of hours after finishing the film. (Note: this depression may also be due to the cloudy weather, and the fact that FOX has just canceled Lone Star. It’s hard to isolate the variables here.)