Jump to content
Sign in to follow this  
Sundered

The Piano

Recommended Posts

I did the search, so I shall weep profusely if I am "ahem'd." This is a draft of something I'm working on for my blog which is why it sounds so stuffy. However, should anyone else enjoy this film...say so!

spoilers1.gif

A story about the psychological evolution of a woman as told in one of the most well realized metaphors this side of Edith Wharton, Jane Campion


I reason, Earth is short -

And Anguish - absolute -

And many hurt,

But, what of that?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

This execrable mess of a film asks us to believe not only that a 19th-century Scotswoman would express herself through watered-down New Age keyboard noodling, but that she would fall in love with a man who buys her piano from her husband and sells it back to her for sexual favors.

Edited by mrmando

Let's Carl the whole thing Orff!

Do you know the deep dark secret of the avatars?

It's big. It's fat. It's Greek.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I wish Hunter would've drowned with the piano, that would've made this thing a classic.

-s.


In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Agreed, the plot pushes the bounds of plausibility.

But the imagery, the performances, and the music of the film have caused my appreciation for it to deepen over many viewings. There are few soundtracks I play as often as The Piano, and Hunter deserved every bit of praise she got for the film.

I guess I could sum it up that I like the technical and subjective work of the film more than the plot's rather preposterous twists.

I'd be interested in womens' perspectives on this film. As I attended the film and watched the video with different groups of people, I've been surprised at how much the women in those groups resonated with the film.

If we must divide into yeas and nays, I'm a yea.


P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

 

"Forget it, Jake. It's Funkytown."    

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

At the risk of sounding like Ted Baehr, I'll say that the plot is not just implausible but morally reprehensible.

The music may be enjoyable on its own terms, but its style doesn't match the period of the film.

I too am puzzled by positive reactions to the film from women ... it was, after all, a certain female coworker of Jeffrey's who recommended the film to me in the first place. Since then I've always taken her recommendations with a pillar of salt.

No viewing of The Piano is complete without dessert. I recommend ladyfingers.


Let's Carl the whole thing Orff!

Do you know the deep dark secret of the avatars?

It's big. It's fat. It's Greek.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Roger Ebert's review

He calls The Piano

one of those rare movies that is not just about a story, or some characters, but about a whole universe of feeling - of how people can be shut off from each other, lonely and afraid, about how help can come from unexpected sources, and about how you'll never know if you never ask.

There is this difference between the growth of some human beings and that of others: in the one case it is a continuous dying, in the other a continuous resurrection. (George MacDonald, The Princess and Curdie)

Isn't narrative structure enough of an ideology for art? (Greg Wright)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

FWIW, a year or two ago, I attended a gathering of Vancouver film critics, and one of them, who had recently reviewed Campion's In the Cut, said to another that Campion had made so many bad films over the past decade that he was beginning to think The Piano hadn't really been all that good either.

Jeffrey Overstreet wrote:

: I'd be interested in womens' perspectives on this film. As I attended the film and

: watched the video with different groups of people, I've been surprised at how much

: the women in those groups resonated with the film.

FWIW, Margaret Miles looks at it in conjunction with Thelma & Louise and says:

Both of the films I have discussed in this chapter provide some new filmic images, and moments in which film's conventions are challenged; both ultimately fail to sustain their nonconventional visions of gender relations. . . . The cautionary tale and the romance still divide power and helplessness according to gender, delivering images of women's agency and actualization only to collapse those images into happy endings in which the women are either killed or socialized. The ultimate failure of
Thelma and Louise
and
The Piano
, however, does not render them valueless. It was important to see them, to consider their proposals in a society that is presently negotiating gender roles, and to imagine future films that can incorporate their strengths and not repeat their mistakes.

FWIW, she also finds the lack of reference to religion in the story of a 19th-century Scotswoman historically implausible.


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I was counting the minutes until it was over.

spoilers1.gif

And I was delighted when the piano went into the ocean!


"If the Christian subculture exists primarily to condemn the world, you can be sure that Jesus is not having any part of it." - John Fischer

"Ignorance is excusable when it is borne like a cross, but when it is wielded like an axe, and with moral indignation, then it becomes something else indeed." - Flannery O'Connor

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
FWIW, she also finds the lack of reference to religion in the story of a 19th-century Scotswoman historically implausible.

Indeed, several of the implausibilities could be resolved if it weren't a period film.


Let's Carl the whole thing Orff!

Do you know the deep dark secret of the avatars?

It's big. It's fat. It's Greek.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I was counting the minutes until it was over.

spoilers1.gif

And I was delighted when the piano went into the ocean!

Have I mentioned "Me, too," except that I wanted Hunter to go down with it?

-s.


In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

*coughs and splutters*

The Piano & In The Cut bad films? If I weren't still so darn jet lagged I would argue this with so much vehemence and passion that you'd be forced to reconsider your positions.

For now I'll be satisfied in saying that I find them both intelligent moving beautiful films and go to sleep some more.


"There is, it would seem, in the dimensional scale of the world a kind of delicate meeting place between imagination and knowledge, a point, arrived at by diminishing large things and enlarging small ones, that is intrinsically artistic" - Vladimir Nabokov

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
For now I'll be satisfied in saying that I find them both intelligent moving beautiful films and go to sleep some more.

Hm. Intelligent, yes. Moving, certainly ... either to tears or to teeth-gnashing frustration. Contains beauty, in the imagery, cinematography, and settings. Still a rotten film.


Let's Carl the whole thing Orff!

Do you know the deep dark secret of the avatars?

It's big. It's fat. It's Greek.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Both Alisdair (Sam Neil) and George (Harvey Keitel) want that thing that only a woman can give, but both fumble at getting this "thing." Ultimately, Ada accepts George because George realizes that he does not want or cannot have this thing by bribery. Ada realizes this, and that's what helps her accept him. Alisdair never gets this, and so Ada rejects him.

I read the film as a story about men and women wanting to connect, but struggling to do so. In a way, this reminds me of L'Avventura. But The Piano is also about Ada and her fierce independence and wanting to live on her own terms.

I haven't seen the film since it first came out, but I thought it was terrific.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Hm. Intelligent, yes. Moving, certainly ... either to tears or to teeth-gnashing frustration. Contains beauty, in the imagery, cinematography, and settings. Still a rotten film.

Sorry, that ain't enough. I don't quite understand what your problem with the film is. "A rotten film" doesn't cut it for me - elaborate please.

And "morally reprehensible"? you're going to have to go into a LOT more detail on that one. I don't want to start an argument about this but I for one don't believe that film CAN have a morality per se.

Edited by gigi

"There is, it would seem, in the dimensional scale of the world a kind of delicate meeting place between imagination and knowledge, a point, arrived at by diminishing large things and enlarging small ones, that is intrinsically artistic" - Vladimir Nabokov

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Ultimately, Ada accepts George because George realizes that he does not want or cannot have this thing by bribery.

cough hack splutter ... where are you getting that? How is "I'll give you back your piano if you let me feel you up" NOT bribery?

Sorry, that ain't enough.  I don't quite understand what your problem with the film is.  "A rotten film" doesn't cut it for me - elaborate please.

Read my first post.

And "morally reprehensible"?  you're going to have to go into a LOT more detail on that one.  I don't want to start an argument about this but I for one don't believe that film CAN have a morality per se.

How about characters? How about situtations? Ada falls in love with someone who treats her like a whore. Y'know, Gone with the Wind presents both a woman's romance and her desperation, but it's smart enough not to confuse the two. The way I read The Piano, George and Alisdair are both despicable slimeballs, and the only reason Ada goes for George is so that she can get her flippin' piano back.

Edited by mrmando

Let's Carl the whole thing Orff!

Do you know the deep dark secret of the avatars?

It's big. It's fat. It's Greek.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
WHERE IS MICHAEL LEARY WHEN WE NEED HIM??

What's he got on The Piano that you don't? Look, if there's something in the film that shows either George or Alisdair coming to his senses

Let's Carl the whole thing Orff!

Do you know the deep dark secret of the avatars?

It's big. It's fat. It's Greek.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm only hoping Leary shows up because I know he's had strong responses to Campion's work in the past, and I'd be interested in his input here.

And again, I wouldn't dare try to mount a defense of the The Piano's take on love.

Instead, I took it as the story of a particular woman who was severely neglected, who was waiting for someone to come along who could and would listen to her and care about what was important to her.

What follows may be faulty because it's been a long time since I've seen it. But this is what I recall:

Her husband's interactions with her are largely practical. He is a landowner. And she is his property. She won't consummate their marriage because they have no real intimacy; he doesn't seem to care about the one way that she is able to express herself... through her piano... so clearly he's not very interested in knowing her.

Then a man shows up who is, for selfish reasons, interested in getting that piano to her. In doing so, she agrees to a sexual transaction... and this leads to a sexual reawakening in which her need for intimacy overpowers her conscience. She engages in regular sex with this brute a) to get her piano, and B) because she's let herself get entangled in a passion that she doesn't have the strength or wisdom to keep in check. Is it love? No. Is it to be celebrated? No. It's a tragic development in an already pathetic and sad situation. She's settling for something less than the ideal. But is her husband to be pitied? I don't think so.

If I remember right, the child isn't very pleased about this development, and I don't think we're to take her perspective lightly.

And I don't think the husband is to be pitied much. He showed some agape love in agreeing to marry her. But were her wishes respected? Should anybody marry someone out of pity? Is there any eros in this marriage at all? I don't remember any hint of it.

To quote Miss Honeychurch from A Room with a View: "He's the sort who can't know anyone intimately, least of all a woman. He doesn't know what a woman is. He wants you as a possession, something to look at, like a painting or an ivory box. Something to own and to display. He doesn't want you to be real, and to think and to live. He doesn't love you."

Edited by Jeffrey Overstreet

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

 

"Forget it, Jake. It's Funkytown."    

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I agree with everything you've said, Jeffrey, but I don't agree with Campion's decision, having taken the story thus far (and further, given what Alisdair does next), to slap a warm happy ending on the film and try to pass it off as a romance.

Perhaps Roger Ebert and Sundered are right, and the film really is about psychologies, not people ... in which case none of the events or characters should necessarily be read at face value. Of course, once you make that claim, you can slap nearly any interpretation you like on it.


Let's Carl the whole thing Orff!

Do you know the deep dark secret of the avatars?

It's big. It's fat. It's Greek.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hmm. I find the ending to be very conflicting. The idea that she's suddenly "cultivated" him into some kind of gentleman... it's very implausible. I even wonder if maybe she DID drown and this isn't some kind of wishful thinking hallucination. There's not much in the film to support that. But even so, the ending seems strange and troubling. I didn't get the feeling we were supposed to walk away with warm fuzzies.


P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

 

"Forget it, Jake. It's Funkytown."    

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

OK, OK... seeing as the jet lag kicked in at 8pm and I now find myself awake at a silly hour with nothing better to do (or so I tell myself), I suppose I ought to at least attempt to defend the film.

Firstly: morality in characters, situations, etc. No, I don't believe that any aspect of a film can hold morality in and of itself. It only becomes imbued with such qualities when it is viewed and that is a factor that is entirely dependent on the position of the viewer. Have you ever read "Skyscraper" by Carl Sandburg? It's a good illustration of what I'm trying to say.

On this point. Are Ada's actions really so immoral? She has been sold and shipped to a man as far removed from her life as possible, a cruel (even if unintentionally so) and simple man that has no comprehension of her as an individual. Her actions are desperate and some may say selfish but she is trying to survive in a hostile environment (both environments she is placed in are hostile- New Zealand & the colony). She has one means of retaining her identity and her control, by keeping her piano which is as much a link to her past as it is her sexual identity (the book goes into a lot more detail about this - her daughter was born following a teenage fling with her piano teacher). Baines wins her heart not because he bargained for sexual favours but because he recognises it as a fundamental part of who she is and allows that voice expression. That he gives it up in the end ("I am sick, Ada") demonstrates that fundamentally he is just a weak man that made a mistake when in love. Her determination to regain her pride and control even when he subjects her to humiliations further demonstrates that what occurs between them is much more complex than a reductionist reading of it as a simple capitalist exchange of service for goods.

Right, now I've got that out of the way let me move on (though I have to say that the above would colour your response to the Piano, no doubt as it does mine). I don't think that a narrative approach is necesarily the best way to interpret the Piano. The film explicitly takes us into the realms of emotion - like Ada's decision to go mute, it doesn't try to explain itself because it's not necesarily meant to be understood.

[At this point I would disagree wholeheartedly with Sundered's initial interpretation of Ada as childlike and

incapable of surviving independently in an adult world.
This is a value judgement. We are told that her refusal to speak is a clear decisive choice. To me it is also a demonstration of her resilience, independence, and self removal from a patriachal order that ultimately sells her to a stranger in a strange land. That she is rude to the Captain has more to do with the several-month long ship journey she has just taken and his patronising tone (a tone everyone but Bates takes on).]

In this respect I think it's a difficult film to defend or argue against. I have known passions to run high on this particular film many a time and often what it ultimately comes down to is one side saying "you don't get it" and the other saying "I don't want to get it". Similarly there is usually a male/female split on this issue. I don't want to play the cheap trump card of "men don't get this essentially woman's film" that I have heard brought out in the past, but there is decidedly something about this film that for the greater part divides the sexes. I'm intrigued to know what and why. I bring it up because I think it is largely related to what I said above and also because I've wondered for a long time if narrative cinema (in the traditional sense of the word) is necesarily a male construct, but I'm going off on one.

Now I'm not saying that narratively the Piano isn't a very well constructed film, or that it is simply a melodrama. I think both narrative and emotion are inseparable in this otherwise it simply wouldn't function and like it or not it obviously does for a lot of people. That there is a suspension of disbelief to certain elements goes without saying. [The music, granted, does not fit the period but it entirely fits the film, the character and the situation. Lack of religion? Look a little more carefully - are you entirely sure about this? There is substantial reference to religion only not necesarily in the way you may wish it to be represented: religion is tied in with colonialism - the indigenous maids sing God Save The Queen to try to please their bosses (now HERE you have a perfect example of a childish woman who is incapable of surviving in the adult world), the marriage is a sham (as demonstrated by the attempt at a photograph) to try to justify what is essentially a slave trade that forms part of the movement to colonise... Also, it's not Scotland, it's colonial New Zealand. This is one of the reasons that the Indigenous religion is a lot more substantive and fitting than the non-native one. They have a respect for their dead that the colonials are lacking even for the living, it fits in their environment and they are shown to be a much closer community that works better at supporting each other]. Meh... *shrugs* so what? As for the disbelief Ada chooses Baines (and she does choose, explicitly gives her heart to him), I would say that is due to a very literal reading of their relationship. Geez - you reduced a 2 hour depiction of it, which by your own admission is intelligent, beautifully realised and moving, into a glib one liner.

And the mention of alternative ending in which spoilers1.gif Ada drowns with her Piano... I can't think of anything crueler (or more cliched, for that matter). In fact I think that the "happy ending" is a much more complex version of the usual happy ending and that the film is actually quite pro-marriage because of it. The Piano criticises an institution that has resulted in bondage and sexual oppression, and what is elevated is something that through struggle eventually becomes a mutually supportive relationship that is respectful, tender, accepting and loving between two people that learn how to compromise and surrender themselves to one another. In my own view the latter is a much truer expression of marriage than the former, just missing some formalities. It's also a lot more human.

Now... do you want me to get started on the cinematography?

Edited by gigi

"There is, it would seem, in the dimensional scale of the world a kind of delicate meeting place between imagination and knowledge, a point, arrived at by diminishing large things and enlarging small ones, that is intrinsically artistic" - Vladimir Nabokov

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks, gigi.

For me, the key moment in the film visually is the slow zoom on Ada's braids, that suddenly morphs into a slow zoom on the wilderness itself. The different ways the Europeans and the New Zealand natives treat nature represents the different ways that the two men treat Ada.

This film is about much, much more than marriage. It's about a Western, "manifest-destiny" style of owning and conquering versus a different, more soulful and subjective form of relationship.


P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

 

"Forget it, Jake. It's Funkytown."    

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Thanks, gigi.

For me, the key moment in the film visually is the slow zoom on Ada's braids, that suddenly morphs into a slow zoom on the wilderness itself. The different ways the Europeans and the New Zealand natives treat nature represents the different ways that the two men treat Ada.

This film is about much, much more than marriage. It's about a Western, "manifest-destiny" style of owning and conquering versus a different, more soulful and subjective form of relationship.

Ok, so there isn't an emoticon with a jaw dropping - I'm not lying, that is the shot that makes me cry every time. There's so much passion and turbulence in the stillness of that moment that I weep like a baby on cue without fail. Yes, Yes, Yes. And if you didn't get that: YES!

(Also, why do I have to write a whole page when you can do it in 6 lines, dammit?!)

I was gonna write a whole thing about the environment and character but stopped myself but basically your whole second paragraph applies perfectly to that too.

Edited by gigi

"There is, it would seem, in the dimensional scale of the world a kind of delicate meeting place between imagination and knowledge, a point, arrived at by diminishing large things and enlarging small ones, that is intrinsically artistic" - Vladimir Nabokov

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Sign in to follow this  

×
×
  • Create New...