The Pianist is an emotionally devastating true story of a Jewish pianist in Poland caught up in the horrors of World War II.
Director Roman Polanski, himself a survivor of the Holocaust who lost many family members, powerfully conveys the epic journey of a man who is transformed by a series of events from an elegantly dressed, highly cultured musician to a scavenging, debased shell of a human being.
The Nazis invade Poland, confine Jews to a ghetto, and eventually ship them off to concentration camps. There is heartbreaking and graphic violence. Yet, Polanski delivers this difficult message in a very thoughtful, skillful way. Just when the audience is on the verge of becoming numbed by the grim life in the ghetto, the pianist escapes for a day and walks through the bright flower stalls in the crowded market outside the ghetto. It reminds the viewer of how far the pianist has fallen from a “normal” life, but it gives the viewer the same brief respite that it gives the pianist. Just when the Nazi brutality against the Jews seems unbearable, a music-loving German soldier treats the pianist kindly while Jewish victims prey on each other.
The most effective parts of the movie are the small, vivid, almost unbearably poignant human moments. In one, a family awaiting a transport train which will take them away to a concentration camp combines all their remaining money to buy a single caramel which they carefully divide into four tiny portions.
This is clearly not a movie for children. However, in addition to being an excellent work of art, it is an instructive movie for teenagers who take for granted the comfort and stability of their world. In “The Pianist,” war is not glamorous and the most principled and courageous people are among its first victims. “The Pianist” is an excellent movie about survival, fate, and values. It is a very worthwhile movie for young adults.
Parents should know that the movie has strong language and graphic and horrific violence, including casual murder of Jews.
Families who appreciate this movie will also appreciate “Life is Beautiful,” “Schindler’s List,” and “The Harmonists.”