« Rise of the Planet of the Apes | Main | Warrior »

August 26, 2011

The Piano - Classic Film Pick



Piano Cloaked psychosis is a crucial element to Jane Campion's exploration of Victorian era female repression. Widowed Ada (Holly Hunter) has been mute since she was six—ostensibly by choice. The voice we hear in Ada’s narration is her “mind’s voice.” Ada’s father arranges for her to travel from Scotland to marry Stuart (Sam Neill), a European industrialist living in a tiny enclave of Christian settlers in 19th century New Zealand. Ada and her precocious six-year-old daughter Flora (Anna Paquin) are deposited by local Maoris, along with Ada’s many trunks of possessions and prized piano, on a desolate beach. Stuart’s failure to greet to her prefigures his ambivalence toward his new wife. Mother and daughter are forced to camp alone for a night on the cold beach. Anna’s betrothed deigns to greet them the next day but refuses to receive the crate containing her exquisite piano—Ada’s primary form of expression. It sits abandoned on the windswept beach, a symbol of lost hope and freedom.

The iconic imagery captured by cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh evokes ideas regarding nature and industrialization. The beautiful but bulky musical instrument is the unambiguous object Ada assigns as her primary means of communication. Michael Nyman’s lush score allows Holly Hunter to portray her character’s estimable musical abilities. Ada is small in stature, but her musical means of sound production is enormous; important. Ada makes furious use of her hands during sign language that Flora then translates to others with liberal embellishment. As much as the piano is Ada’s surrogate voice, her muteness allows Flora to manipulate the adult world around her with an imaginative but undisciplined disposition.

This cycle of gentle exploitation expands at the opportune hands of Harvey Keitel’s Baines, a former whaler who has gone native to the point of wearing Maori tattoos on his face. Oddly disinterested in Maori women, Baines becomes entranced with Ada’s playing when he accompanies her and Flora to visit her piano on the beach. Keitel’s clever character engages in a complex plan to seduce Ada by trading a piece of land with Stuart in exchange for the piano. He goes on to request Ada come to his house to give him lessons, Baines makes clear his ulterior motives. He will sell Ada back the piano based on piecemeal installments of favors calculated on segments of its 88 keys. By fetishizing the piano Baines gains access to Ada’s erotic imagination in a way that Stuart can only wonder at when he eventually discovers the truth of their relationship. Flora’s jealousy of her mother represents a generational competition. If Ada chooses to be with Baines, so then Flora curries favor with Stuart. It is a recipe for disaster.

“The Piano” is a powerful film for its slow, inevitable inertia of drama. If Ada is mentally crippled, she is less so than the reactionary people surrounding and oppressing her. She is punished for her sins, and equally rewarded for them as well.

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
https://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d8341c2b7953ef014e8afbfdff970d

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference The Piano - Classic Film Pick:

Comments

Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Working...
Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.

Working...

Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Featured Video

SMART NEW MEDIA® Custom Videos

COLE SMITHEY’S MOVIE WEEK

COLE SMITHEY’S CLASSIC CINEMA

Throwback Thursday


Podcast Series