Posted by: benherst | September 29, 2009

The Pianist Movie Review

The Pianist

Had it not been for Adolf Hitler, I probably would not exist today. In order to escape from the anti-semitic setting of Warsaw, Poland in pre-World War II era, my Jewish ancestors immigrated to the United States. Included in this group was my paternal great-grandmother and eight of her ten siblings. Two of her brothers stayed behind, eventually falling victim to the Nazi-orchestrated Holocaust, never to be seen again. Therefore, if Hitler had never ordered the genocide of eleven million European Jews (with six million eventually perishing), my bloodline could very well still be across the pond. This tragic Holocaust is the basis of Roman Polanski’s The Pianist, a film set in the very same European city that I can trace my heritage back to – Warsaw.

The story is based on the life of Władysław Szpilman (played by Adrien Brody), a Jewish man living with his family in Warsaw, Poland. On September 1st, 1939, Szpilman and his family learn that Nazi Germany has invaded Poland and that France and Great Britain have subsequently joined together to defend Europe from Hitler and the Nazi army. However, Szpilman and his family, along with the entire populous of Warsaw Jews, are forced into the ghetto, where conditions are poor and food is scarce. When the inhabitants of the ghetto are eventually round up and sent off in cattle cars to the concentration camps, Szpilman is saved by a friend and thus separated from his family. He is forced into grueling slave labor, but simultaneously helps plot against the Germans, sneaking weapons into the ghetto. Before the uprising, Szpilman chooses to try and sneak out of the bleak ghetto and attempt to survive with the help of some old non-Jewish friends in the outer world – a world where he witnesses some of the cruelest atrocities committed by man against man.

In The Pianist, Polanski uses the camera to truly capture the desperate nature of humanity and the state of the Jews during Nazi-occupied Poland. For example, such desperation is showcased during the scene where a man seizes a woman’s pot of food, spills it, and proceeds to eat the spilt contents off the grimy streets of the ghetto. However, what especially stood out to me from this specific scene was the fact that the onlookers failed to make any attempt at intervention. Part of the reason that Polanski is able to achieve such accuracy in replicating the environment is due to the fact that he actually survived and escaped the harsh reality of the Krakow Ghetto during the Holocaust period as well. Therefore, Polanski’s straightforward camera work flawlessly depicts the spirit of the fading Jews.

Though we were unable to finish the film in class, I would recommend it without hesitation based solely upon the part that I have seen so far. I especially commend Polanski for the historical vividness of this story. Though many scenes are quite graphic and disturbing, this element is truly crucial to the effect of Władysław Szpilman’s story. Overall, the content is mature yet simple and heavy yet real.

The Pianist provides the narrative of a bewildered young man as he struggles to survive in a microcosm of Holocaust-plagued Europe. The substantiality of the story is strengthened by the fact that it is based upon Władysław Szpilman’s actual life. This reality causes one to appreciate the efforts of people like Szpilman even more, as they helped to defend humanity from the unsympathetic beast that was Adolf Hitler and his Gestapo during the Second World War. Polanski’s film presents a grim illustration of the unfortunate historical era that brought upon the demise of millions of innocent souls. Hidden in plain view of this era was Władysław Szpilman, a musical genius in the rough whose story is immortalized in The Pianist.

The Pianist

The Pianist


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