Reviewed by: Cheryl Sneeringer
“Shine” is the true, touching story of David Helfgott, a young piano prodigy growing up in Australia shortly after World War II. In the opening scene we see the adult David as the sort of person we tend to avoid on the streets—a strange, confused outcast. He is rain-drenched, unkempt, and muttering crazily a continuous stream of chatter. He wanders into a restaurant, lost and alone, and the kindly proprietor delivers him back to the dingy room where he lives.
From this sad opening, we see the life of David Helfgott in flashback. At the age of nine, David played in his first piano competition, performing Chopin’s “Polonaise.” The young boy has been blessed with an extraordinary talent, but cursed with a father who is an autocratic tyrant—a man who demands perfection from his son, as well as absolute loyalty and obedience.
When David, in his early teens, becomes the youngest pianist ever to win a national piano competition, he is offered the opportunity to go to America to study music, but his father refuses to allow him to leave the confining boundaries of his own dictatorial rule. So David must meet the merciless requirements of his father: “You must always win,” his father demands, and yet, he is not permitted to pursue his musical career beyond the borders of his village.
By the time David finally breaks away from his father and leaves to study music at the Royal College of Music in London, David has become a social misfit. He is naïve, gullible, nervous, and unkempt. But he finds at the university a kindly mentor (John Gielgud). His teacher sees flashes of genius in Helfgott’s playing, and he helps him realize a life-long dream—performing the very difficult Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto #3. His performance is brilliant, but it ends in an emotional breakdown. Helfgott’s subsequent journey from incapacity to renewed acclaim is inspiring and uplifting.
The film was beautifully written and acted. It is a sensitive and touching portrayal of a man who has a prodigious God-given talent as well as a disabling emotional handicap. Although it is too intense for children, it may be appropriate for young teenagers. “Shine” can be a good springboard for discussion of the fact that every human being has inherent worth and value, and bears the image of God. Adults will find it helpful in demonstrating to young people how wrong it is when they torment and ostracize those who are “different.”
Another lesson to be drawn from the film is the example in David Helfgott’s life of the providence of God. The film, unfortunately, does not acknowledge God, but it is striking that throughout his life, there have been those who have given of themselves unselfishly to help this man. Although Helfgott endured a great deal of hardship, God provided for him several significant, unlikely friendships—individuals who cared for him and helped him and provided for him. If you go with your teenagers to see this film, ask them to list the blessings that God provided, which enabled him to become who he has become.
“Shine” is an inspirational celebration of a most extraordinary man—a man who was able to rise above an overwhelming disability not by virtue of his own efforts, but through the love and support of people who were willing to accept him and care for him.
There was one usage of vulgarity, but no profanity in the film. There is some full-male rear nudity, as well as some immodesty and awkward fondling, plus a very brief (non-suggestive) portrayal of marital sexual activity.
The film expresses some cynicism regarding religion, particularly Judaism, and an approving portrayal of astrology. However, in spite of these segments, I found this film to be memorable, entertaining and enjoyable—well worth seeing.
Year of Release—1997