4 Stars - Inspiring
When one stops to consider the loss not only of lives but also of culture when war is waged, it staggers the mind and pierces the soul. Rather than relishing the uniqueness of every human being and empowering them to reach their full potential, war creates a mass perspective in which people are lumped together into race or religion or nationality and killed. This was never so clearly demonstrated as in the Nazi hatred of the Jewish people in World War II. Based on the autobiography of Wladysaw Szpilman, “The Pianist” is a lonely exception to the travesty as he survives the hellish machinations of the Nazis in Warsaw.
Director Roman Polanski, who is himself a survivor of the holocaust, creates a masterpiece not only in his historical depiction of the horror that struck the Jewish people during the war, but also by lacing this repulsive nightmare with the elegance of Szpilman’s music. As we hear the chords of the best that humanity can produce juxtaposed upon the worst of humanity’s hatreds, both reveal the height and depth of which we are capable.
Having studied in Berlin and now performing as a famous pianist on Polish radio, Szpilman’s career is interrupted with the Nazi bombings of 1939. Literally having his studio blown out from under him, Szpilman (Adrien Brody) begins a journey with his family that displays the incomprehensibility of evil. At the beginning of the atrocities when the Jewish people are being moved into the ghetto, Szpilman has a brief conversation with a beautiful young woman who is attracted to him. Involuntarily staring into the face of such evil, they agree, “this can’t last long for it is unbelievably absurd.”
That is the nature of evil. As we see the Jewish people politely and obediently march into ghettos and then railroad cars and then gas chambers, all the while in shock because they could not believe what was happening to them, this only demonstrates the power of evil to overtake a people. Evil in its raw form is so overwhelmingly unimaginable that good people do not know how to respond. Unless trained to both identify and fight such evil, it incapacitates us. Only as we are shaken from its spell do we realize we must stop its atrocities.
Due to a series of serendipitous events, Szpilman survives the holocaust due to the love of his fellow human beings for him both as a person and as a musician. But it is made clear that through it all, God is watching over him. This fact is stated directly by a German officer, Captain Wilm Hosenfeld (Thomas Kreschmann), who discovers Szpilman hiding out only weeks before the Russian army liberates Warsaw.
Finding Szpilman in a house he intends to make his headquarters, Captain Hosenfeld is a pianist who, when he discovers that Szpilman is also a pianist, asks him to play for him. Overcome by the power of his music, he not only assists in keeping him hidden but he feeds him as well. When Captain Hosenfeld prepares to leave, he responds to Szpilman’s thanks by telling him not to thank him, but to thank God, for He must have wanted him to survive.
Though Polanski shows little of the faith and worship of any of the Jewish people, nor does he portray their struggle that God would allow such atrocity to fall upon them, the nature of Szpilman’s survival speaks through the rubble of the war. Living until July 6, 2000, Szpilman went on to create beautiful music for both his people and his world. That is a gift of God to all of us.
- It is the nature of evil to overwhelm good and paralyze us from taking action. When the Jewish people quietly tried to survive the prejudice by doing what the Nazi officers required of them, it led them to their death. What lessons do we need to learn from this? What should they have done? What do you think you would do were this to occur again?
- When music and the arts reach across racial and national lines, they unite us into a common humanity. Do you think we could more deliberately unite ourselves into a community of all persons by sharing our music and art? What will happen if the art we share with other nations presents us as aggressive, greedy or materialistic? What do you think it did to our world when “Dallas” was one of the most global of all American television shows, and Madonna and Michael Jackson are our most famous musicians?
- When the film gives credit to God for saving Szpilman’s life, what does that say about all the lives that were not saved? Where are the rabbis in this film? Why do you think Polanski leaves them out?
- Through a similar series of serendipitous events, Roman Polanski’s life was saved as well. When he uses his artistic skills to create a film on Szpilman’s life, they joined their creative talents to make this masterpiece. Do you believe God wanted it made or is this just serendipity?