By Astha Joshi
Initially released in 1993, The Piano is as fresh as a dewdrop. Its storyline, metaphorical portrayal, and actors make the film an absolute cult. There are rare films which thoroughly do justice to a feministic approach. This film is one of them. It is feministic not just because of the lead character being a female, but also because it actually does justice to the female character in the script. Each character in the story develops with the situations they come across.
The story starts with Ada, the lead played by Holly Hunter, who is a mum 19th-century woman. She travels to New Zealand to a man to whom she is sold, along with her daughter. The behavior of the daughter shown is quite natural – she initially refuses to call the new husband of Ada as her father, but with time, she subtly starts planning mischiefs against her mother and gets her into trouble. The new husband Alisdair Stewart (Sam Neill) goes along with his Maori people, the natives to the beach, to receive Ada and her daughter Flora along with the possessions they carry with them. With the boxes of clothes and groceries is the piano which is dear to Ada. This piano is depicted as a vital form of her self-expression, as she expresses herself through sign language and writing notes. Everything about Ada deeply disappoints Alisdair, who declares that his slaves cannot likely carry the piano to their plantation.
Ada, without the piano, reaches the plantation and later approaches Baines, the Scottish man who has turned native, having Maori marks on his face. Baines, played by Harvey Keitel, takes it upon him to bring back the piano. He takes it to his own hut and asks Ada’s husband to consent her to give him the piano lessons. Hoping to improve his relations with the strange and angry bride, Alisdair agrees. Baines wants to watch Ada play the piano and further negotiates with her ahead to play in the state of undress.
The story takes turns and explores the hidden sexual desires of Ada. The film shows the brutal side of Alisdair as he reaches the extent of raping the mute woman to fulfill his desire and mark his ownership. The film does not make you feel one character tag as a protagonist or an antagonist. The situations and moods created around each character reasonably justify their actions and behavioral patterns.
The Piano is a movie everyone has been talking about ever since it was first played at Cannes where it won the Palme d’Or. It is one of those exceptional movies that is not just about a story, or some roles, but about a whole cosmos of feeling – of how people can be locked off from each other, empty and afraid, about how aid can come from the unexpected, and about how one can get through all of it.
Astha Joshi is a writer whose articles have been published in Bollywood and TV Reporter magazine, Mayapuri. She writes blogs too. She is a student studying at Thakur College of Science and Commerce and an artist making Canvas paintings.
Cafe Dissensus Everyday is the blog of Cafe Dissensus magazine, based in New York City and India. All materials on the site are protected under Creative Commons License.
Read the latest issue of Cafe Dissensus Magazine, “Writing in Academia”, edited by Anannya Dasgupta, Krea University and Madhura Lohokare, O. P. Jindal Global University, India.