I didn’t watch “The Pianist” when it came out in 2002 because the director of the movie was still under indictment for child molestation. I thought I knew what the movie was about, and I thought I had already read enough about the subject so that I didn’t feel an obligation to go see it. After all, I’m an amateur historian and I know a little bit better what has happened in World War Two, and the horrors of the Death Camps. After all, I had seen “Schindler's List” and if you’ve seen one movie about how terrible the Holocaust was, really, how many more do you have to see?
At least one more, as it turns out.
“The Pianist” is a very well put together movie, wonderfully cast, and the acting from beginning to end is superb. Adrien Brody turns out an Ocsar awarded performance as Wladyslaw Szpilman, a Polish Jew trapped in Warsaw at the very beginning for World War Two. Unlike the film, “Playing for Time” Szpilman’s talent isn’t a ticket out of the horrors of the Nazi pogrom, and the people he knows and loves are murdered en masse all around him. From one hiding place to the next, the film carries us into a very personal look at the desperation, the despair, and the helplessness of living in occupied Poland. Saved by sheer luck when his entire family is being packed into a boxcar bound for Treblinka, Szpilman lives the life of a hunted animal for the next six years, with each day bringing little but more deprivation and less hope. The man watches as his fellow countrymen, and his fellow Jews, are systematically and sadistically murdered. The film leaves you at the edge of your seat, unwilling to watch one more innocent person murdered for no reason at all, yet unable to turn away.
Szpilman did survive, of course, and the first scene of the movie is mirrored in the last, where Szpilam is playing the same piece of music that World War Two interrupted. His autobiography “The Pianist” is the basis of the movie, and going on my reading list.
The idea that the Nazis existed in the past, or were monsters in a movie about an era long gone fades quickly during this film. You see mothers, fathers, children, the old, and young with each and every one of them as human as you and I, being worked to death, brutalized, and killed in scenes that are shown simply and realistically. Lives are torn asunder and extinguished simply over a matter of religion and culture, things most people give little thought to, and suddenly, millions were being killed. This doesn’t feel like the past. This feels real. This feels like it is happening to people you know and care about. It feels this way because that is exactly what happened, and who it happened to.
If you’ve seen one well done Holocaust movie you really have seen them all. If you have seen evil once… The horror does not change in time, if we are attentive. The idea that it can happen again needs to be repeated, and needs to be heard, if we are to retain our humanity. “The Pianist” is a reminder than murder, especially that done of a large scale, robs us all of musicians, artists, writers, and it takes from us people from every imaginable walks of life. The unimaginable is brought to life, again, in “The Pianist”. I recommend it as a reminder of what hatred steals from us, all of us, in the guise of war.