Reviewed by: Debbie James
“The Piano” was nominated for eight Academy Awards and won three of them; for actress (Hunter), supporting actress (Paquin), and screenplay (Campion).
The setting is the 19th century. The film opens with a cold, bleak shot of the New Zealand coast as Ada (Holly Hunter), accompanied by her 11-year-old daughter Flora (Anna Paquin), arrive from Scotland with a few possessions to an arranged marriage to Stewart (Sam Neill), a man she has never met. Ada is mute and hasn’t spoken since age six. She communicates by the writing of notes and sign language. When Stewart and the Maori tribesmen he hired to move her things inland to his house, decide that one of her possessions, her prized piano, is too heavy to move, they leave it there in the rain and surf. That act sets the tone for their marriage.
Ada becomes bitter and aloof to her new husband. She misses her piano so much, as that was her means of expressing herself, but her husband seems clueless to her distress. To ease her pain, she carves keys into the dining room table and pretends to play. Finally, one day she goes to a neighbor, George Baines (Harvey Keitel), and begs him to take her to her piano. As she plays, you can see the joy return to her face. George becomes entranced by her music and devises a plan. He arranges a trade with Stewart; land for Ada’s piano. George then asks Ada to teach him to play the piano. Eventually we see that piano lessons aren’t all he has on his mind. He tells her she can get her piano back in exchange for sexual favors; a few keys for each favor, to which she reluctantly agrees.
In addition to the adultery theme present in “The Piano,” there are scenes of graphic sexuality, full frontal nudity, and erotic moments, as well as sexual slang and innuendo. Language and violence is surprisingly low for an “R”-rated movie with only six instances of mild swearing and minimal violence. The worst scenes are shown during a production of the play “Bluebeard” and instances of marital disharmony, including abuse.
The music is hauntingly beautiful with Holly Hunter, a gifted pianist, playing all of the music on the soundtrack. The cinematographer’s use of bleak colors, stormy weather, and muddy terrain paint an accurate picture of the depressing surroundings and inner turmoil portrayed by the actors in the story. In fact, the most stunning scene in the movie shows Ada’s abandoned piano amidst a backdrop of crashing surf and gray stormy skies, at the precise moment when she’s struggling the most.
It’s too bad “The Piano” contains the explicit scenes. This movie was deemed spectacular from the world’s point of view, but unfortunately, it is too offensive for Christian viewing.