FOUR STARS - Inspirational

“Shine” is a powerful film presenting a disturbing true-life story of a gifted young man’s struggle to find his way in life.  It is full of tragedy, disappointment, violence and pain, but with a penetrating courage and winsomeness which makes the final outcome not only realistic, but inspiring.

The story is the life of a brilliant Australian pianist named David Helfgott (Geoffrey Rush) whose father Peter (Armin Mueller-Stahl) is the only survivor of a Jewish family from Poland.

As a victim of the Holocaust and the violent temper of his own father, Peter has attempted to deal with a cruel world by creating his home and family into a fortress.  However, his fortress has become its own concentration camp, complete with fences of barbed wire and isolation from friends and opportunities.

Our souls cringed every time his father said the words which should have been a comfort but were instead an emotional and spiritual poison:  “You can trust no one.  No one will ever love you like I do.”  Painfully opposite to his actions, these words only served to put the final touch on a diabolical parenting style which was destroying him.

Submerging himself in music, Peter has chosen this art not as a means to worship God or celebrate life, but has instead begun to worship the music itself.  Cruel to his family if they interrupt his listening, he is possessed by his music.

It is no surprise that his son, in a natural attempt to follow in his father’s footsteps, has begun to worship music as well.

A child protege, David is soon the victor of many musical contests.  But, his relationship with his father has become a troubled bond.  When David is awarded the change to leave his home and study music abroad, this causes an agonizing rift between father and son.  In that moment, out of pain and a twisted soul, David’s father pronounces a curse upon him that if he leaves he will not be allowed to return and he will endure punishment throughout his life.

As the father says those words, the interlacing of past and present through which director Scott Hicks is weaving his tale now begins to come together for us as his audience.  David is a greatly damaged young man.  Intelligent, gifted, reaching out, he lives in a ‘mystery’ with uncontrolled fates and forces which he feels powerless to combat.

By his early twenties, David Caves in and is institutionalized for his mental and emotional distress.  In his spiritual and mental anguish, he stays in custody for two decades.

Although his father proclaims that “religion is useless,”  David mumbles that his last name actually means, “God helps.”  Thus, Into the institution comes a warm and cheery middle-aged church organist who rescues him from his latest concentration camp, that of a state hospital and a psychiatrist who tells him he should not play the piano because it was at a concert he had his first mental break. This loving care begins David’s recovery.

But regaining his emotional footing is not easy or complete.  One of the most powerful aspects of “Shine”  is its clear commitment to the truth.  Perhaps due to the real David who was a consultant, or perhaps due to the integrity of the story itself, David’s journey and destination are halting and authentic.

When his eccentricities and sexual needs assert themselves, the church organist finds him a boarding house in which to live.  But through the serendipitous experience of coming upon a restaurant with a very accepting waitress, David finds the loving acceptance he has longed for all of his life.

Contrasting his father’s absence of warmth and constant judgment with that of the simple and open love of his friends, the healing of David’s soul begins.  It takes remarkable turn of events when an unusually accepting woman (Lynn Redgrave) comes into his life.

Enamored with his creative soul, she finds herself drawn to him.  When he responds with a characteristically uninhibited request for her to marry him, she searches her soul and eventually agrees.

Nourished emotionally, sexually, physically and socially, David returns to the music of his youth with passion rather than compulsion and he finds the beginning of balance.

Although most people will not experience the deeply damaging childhood or the internal genius of this protege, the courage of David and the healing power of love is truly a “shining” light to us all.