The Piano is the story of a mute pianist and her daughter in the 1850’s whom are sent to New Zealand for an arranged marriage with a wealthy landowner. When she arrives, the pianist, Ada falls in love with a local named Baines. The core of the film is about the love triangle between Ada, Baines, and the landowner, Stewart. Each of them become shape shifters and is forced to sacrifice something in order to maintain the relationships. Ada sacrifices the comfort she finds with being mute and secluded. She also sacrifices the trust and relationship with her daughter, Flora, as she has to push her away in order to spend time with Baines. Stewart had to sacrifice his work and home by having Ada and Flora move in and spend time with them.Baines has to sacrifice the relationship and trust he has established with Stewart in order to be with Ada.
In the hero’s journey story structure, there is typically one character that fills the archetype of shape shifter but the three main characters in The Piano could all be considered shape shifters as they all put on a mask in order to mislead the others and get what they want. Ada had to mislead Flora and Stewart in order to be with Baines. Soon into the affair Stewart finds out but he doesn’t let Ada know and thus he puts on a mask until he takes physical action. Lastly, Baines puts on a mask when he is around Stewart, as he doesn’t want him to know about the affair.
The elements of Mis-en-scene in the film helps to deepen it’s meaning as well as reflect the psychological state of the characters. When Ada and Flora first arrive to New Zealand they are dropped off on a foggy beach and left with their belongings to wait for Stewart to arrive and bring them to their new home. They arrive wearing Bonnets and large unrevealing dresses, reflecting their conservative style as well as fashion for the upper class at the time. Ada and flora set up camp on the beach where they are surrounded by large mountains and rough seas, they are helpless and this reflects how they are uncomfortable and out of their element in this new place. As Ada and Flora wait, Ada opens the piano and plays it. Before she knows it, a large wave is taking their possessions out to sea. Through this we see that Ada uses the piano to communicate but this form of communication gets in the way of simple tasks.
Overall, I did not enjoy the film. However, there were a few scenes that I found aesthetically pleasing. One was when Baines brings Ada and her daughter down to the beach to play the piano. The beach is vacant except for the boxed piano and the skies were grey and foggy. It seems cold and stormy on the beach yet, this is the first time that we have seen Ada appear happy since they moved to New Zealand. She plays the piano as Flora dances and plays on the sand as Baines watches and listens. I think it’s a beautiful and well-shot scene that ultimately foreshadows Baines and Ada’s relationship and how they will be happy once the three of them are alone.