The Piano (1993)

The Piano (1993)

1993 R 121 Minutes

Romance | Drama

After a long voyage from Scotland, pianist Ada McGrath and her young daughter, Flora, are left with all their belongings, including a piano, on a New Zealand beach. Ada, who has been mute since chi...

Overall Rating

8 / 10
Verdict: Good

User Review

  • WHAT I LIKED: Jane Campion's 'The Piano,' is a masterclass in the female gaze, as it's not only a film where every frame of every scene is devoted to showing the small, emotional sensitivities and complexities of characters and their relationships, but it's also a film where women organically interact using that language, whilst men overtly hinder that.

    The story follows a mute Scottish woman called Ada (Holly Hunter) arriving in New Zealand to enter into an arranged marriage with Allisdair (Sam Niell) along with her daughter Flora (Anna Paquin). The fact she doesn't speak - and the fact she largely expresses herself by playing the piano - automatically makes her someone who communicates on more delicate, physical and spiritual terms than most people. But the way Campion lingers on the intricacies of Hunter's brilliantly expressive physicality brings that to life so perfectly. She's relaxed when allowed space to gently revel in and express her feelings with her daughter or at her piano, then cold and protective over that peace when anything threatens to interrupt it, and we're invited to uncover that all from intently watching her eyes or her stance.

    In stark contrast, Allisdair studies her nervously and analytically; at first wondering if she's mentally retarded, and even failing to understand the significance of her piano and leaving it stranded on the beach upon their first meeting. Then, his best friend George (Harvey Keitel) similarly tries to get to know her romantically by sitting in and attempting to learn piano as she plays, and yet he begins the relationship in an extremely transactional way by asking Ada to play certain keys in exhange for intimacy. Both men, it seems, mistake her silence for compliance.

    Slowly, George does learn to chip away at her shell with calmness and a touch of empathy, and a forbidden and very real connection inevitably builds between the pair (and the way it's filmed is beautiful; again through the smallest moments of affection and glances). But it's threatened constantly by Allisdair's calculating need for her possession and validation, and though George changes to some degree, the two eventually come to blows over her. That dichotomy between behaviours is deeply fascinating and thought-provoking, as the men place great importance on Ada as something of pride to attain, whilst she only values moments of peace and tranquility - equally happily through affection or otherwise. That's summed up so eloquently in the final frames, and it makes for a film that will touch you deeply and say a little something not only about the female gaze, but also about what should ultimately be important in life regardless of your gender.

    WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE: As is generally the case with Campion, the film is mostly concerned with just observing characters' behaviours rather than exploring any changes or arcs within them. Because they're always so perfectly observed, we often fully understand them extremely quickly so there's not a huge amount to keep us engaged thereafter.

    VERDICT: 'The Piano,' sees Jane Campion and Holly Hunter simply and masterfully present us with a woman who lives for peace and sensitivity, and two men who hinder that with their pride.