The holocaust was the worst crime against humanity and a race ever committed; the concept as to the extermination of the Jewish race and it’s allies is simply ridiculous and thus a thought is shown in “The Pianist” a film that rivals every one of the greatest Holocaust films ever made, including the best “Schindler’s List”. Based upon the autobiography and chronicle of pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman through his struggle for survival from the beginning of the holocaust, his family’s move from smaller place to smaller place to finally a concentration camp, his escape from the concentration camp and his survival in the Warsaw ghetto, we learn something about the people of that time, the Jewish people who were persecuted among the Nazi’s; these were survivors, these were true heroes who managed to stay alive along the course of the Holocaust.
Legendary filmmaker Roman Polanski manages to paint an incomparable portrait of the human condition and the struggle for survival among tyranny, he manages to compose a story of such elegance yet such brutality it’s stunning. Suffice to say this is probably the most brutal and unforgiving films dealing with the holocaust ever made with its quiet humility overlapped among vicious violence. There are numerous and countless scenes among the viewing into the story that linger, but none were so cruel as in one sequence where Jewish people attempt to cross the street of the Warsaw ghetto but are forced to dance with one another by the Nazi soldiers who take amusement by their suffering and desperation to stay alive.
It’s a scene that sums up what the Nazi’s thought of the Jewish race; animals, toys, lower than life beings, things for their enjoyment should they ever be bored. Heaven forbid they should ever be bored and decide to take amusement out of the suffering around them. There is a horrible and almost unmentionable scene in which a crippled man is thrown off a balcony falling on his head as the rest of the building’s patrons run in the streets as they’re hunted down for sport, there is a woman screaming repeatedly “Why did I do it?” in a Jewish prison and when we learn of her cries, it’s truly horrid.
All of the Nazi atrocities and sheer horrors are captured on film during “The Pianist”, but there’s also warmth, and genius as we’re given a glimpse into characters that we learn about, characters we feel for, and characters we root for. Like all Jewish people then, some gave into the Nazi upheaval and takeover, some gave up hope, but the Szpilman family refuse to give into the decrees given by the Nazi’s Wladysaw’s brother Henryk played with great skill by Ed Stoppard is a memorable character in the story and gives a thought to the audience; though Henryk is older, stronger and more rebellious than Wladysaw, he disappears into the hordes of Jewish prisoner’s but Wladysaw, the young and more passive brother manages to survive.
After a while many of the Jewish prisoner’s became de-sensitized by the dread and violence around them almost soon finding morbid amusement among the events as when Henryk is strictly told by his mother (Maureen Lipman) not to mention the bad stuff that is happening and he giddily tells a gruesome story about an surgeon being killed and laughs. This film which demonstrates the brutality of the holocaust is also a tale of family, and of appreciation for what you have; for as Wladysaw and his family are being hauled off into a Concentration camp, Wladysaw remarks to his sister Halina (Jessica Kate Meyer), “I wish I would have known you better”. Adrien Brody who’s recently starred in small roles as supporting or feature characters gives a memorable and outstanding performance as Wladysaw becoming this tortured man who must live and fight the Nazi’s. He received a well deserved Oscar for best actor for his performance and it’s not difficult to understand why while watching Wladysaw survive.
There are many scenes that best represent Brody’s under-appreciated acting skills including the scene in the hospital where he plays piano while delirious from hunger, his performance for a Nazi officer on the piano, and one of the most heart-wrenching scenes ever made in which he walks along the abandoned and looted Warsaw ghetto crying and bawling amidst the corpses of his people. It’s truly a scene that demonstrates futility in surviving the holocaust, a scene known as a victory with no true gain. The last scene of the film as Brody’s character gets nearly killed by Russian soldiers for wearing a German coat is very reminiscent of “Night of the Living Dead”, with it’s steeping irony and incredible meaning to it, and we watch as the Nazi’s are reduced to begging animals amidst the screams and torment of the Jewish survivors.
There is one melancholy scene in the end of the film as we watch Wladysaw at his piano performing for Polish radio and his friend on the other side of the glass laughs and stares in wide-eyed amazement at his surviving the tribulations he’s experienced, he stares back with a smile of accomplishment, looks down and continues to play as he cries. It’s a scene that truly shows his emotional turmoil that he’s experienced and it’s an ending with a question mark plastered on the screen; has he really accomplished over everything? Has he really won? It’s an ending that should be debated, but nonetheless, in spite of it all, the film is an accomplishment for Polanski and Brody, it’s inspiring, incredible, and surely one of the greatest films ever made and I beg that you watch it and learn. A literal achievement and a marvel of filmmaking with a riveting and tragic story, top notch performances, and a climax that will surely linger, this is one of the best films ever made.