I was not prepared for this film, for the realistic and shocking scenes of the brutal killing of Jews in Poland. I think viewer warning is appropriate for a film of this intensity since this is one of the most graphic Nazi films that I've seen.
When I was describing scenes to my friend, who did not see the film, he said that perhaps my deep disturbance is due to the fact that I do not watch T.V. and am not as desensitized to watching people being murdered. He also said that people may need this sort of shock value to break through the hypnosis that our culture is under.
Throughout most of the film I kept thinking to myself that I would've preferred death to the struggle and atrocities that the Jewish people were forced to endure. Partly because I could not tolerate watching others being mistreated and murdered. Partly because I could not tolerate being controlled and told what to do. And partly because I do not know that I possess the stamina to persist in cases of extreme starvation, enervation and exhaustion. I have untold reverence for those, like the main character in this film (a young Polish man), who rose above it all and came through on the other side as a survivor.
This Roman Polanski film is an important one, especially in these present times. I could not help but think about the Iraqi's while watching this film. For the most part "The Pianist" is not an easy film to view though it is not without its rewards either. The agitation that I felt during most of the film was released into tears when the main character played an astonishing piece of piano music for a German soldier.
In the scene the main character, who is estranged from his family and has been hiding out and on the run for a long while (years), is trying to open a large can of pickles with fireplace tools. It is a painful sight because he has been trying to find a way to open this can to no avail for quite some time to procure the contents and assuage his extreme hunger. He spikes the can three times and it falls to the floor. The camera follows the can as the juice spills out and it rolls right towards the shiny boots of a German soldier. (The camera work is brilliant)
The two men look at one another and of course, the German SS Soldier asks the man what he is doing, why he is there (in this demolished and abandoned house), and if he is a Jew. But, unlike the other brutal soldiers in the film, this soldier, who we later learn is a ranking officer, does not yell or even demand. He simply asks questions. When he is asked "what do you do?" the Jewish man answers that he used to be a pianist. Upon hearing this the soldier asks the limping and feeble man to follow him. He leads him into the next room, points towards a piano and asks him to play.
The man, shaky, disheveled and weak pulls up a chair and positions himself in front of the piano. After not playing for so long and being in the condition that he was, one would expect him to initially hit some sour notes. But the sound of the piano (in his imaginings) is what has been keeping him alive through all of his trials, his savior of sorts.
This broken man, moments before fumbling to open a can of pickles, touches the keys and plays as if no time has passed since the days that he was free and at his job playing the piano for a radio station. It is a real testament to the strength of the human spirit to see him rise above such a situation.
The piano also serves as a profound transformative tool that creates a bridge and a connection between these two men, a Jew and a German soldier. Here they are sharing in this extraordinarily moving moment with no ethnic barriers between them. There is only the power of the universal language of music serving to link these two rivals in an unforeseen way. It truly is a beautiful scene carrying a profound message.