Analysis on Jane Campion’s — The Piano

The Piano (1993) is a film about a mute woman in the 1850’s whom is sent along with her young daughter, and her prized piano to New Zealand. Here, she has arrived to take part in an arranged marriage to a wealthy landowner, Alisdair. Soon after though, she is lusted after by Baines, a local worker on the plantation, which leads into a sticky love triangle.


Sacrifice

At the core of the film’s love triangle, the characters make sacrifices in order to keep the other safe and happy while putting themselves in complete turmoil.

Ada sacrifices her lust for Baines, and ability to go see him, by staying put underneath the thumb of Alisdair to gain his trust. She didn’t really have a choice, being that Alisdair boarded up the windows and doors to cease her escape, but she went the extra mile by beginning to touch him — to make him feel as if she was more affectionate.

Alisdair then after sacrifices the chance of Ada going to see Baines, by trusting her and pulling the boards off of and leaving the house to go work on the land.

Baines sends the piano up to Ada and Alisdair after he has been able to be especially intimate with Ada. By doing this, he sacrifices his beloved time spent with Ada in order to protect her from any suspicion or further neglect from Alisdair.

Flora, Ada’s daughter also sacrifices her relationship with her mother (and also one of Ada’s fingers), in order to try and create a better bond with her new father. When Ada gives Flora a piano key to deliver to Baines, she retaliates and gives it to Alisdair, whom then goes back to Ada to punish her for her lack of loyalty.

Shapeshifters

Ada: First presents herself as quiet, ornery, prudish, and unaffectionate, due to her not being able to have the one thing that allows her to speak her mind and soul — her piano. Once Baines asks for piano lessons and has Ada come down to his home to play (and follow through with a few requests) He begins to understand her like no one ever has, because he listens to what she plays. Soon after, Ada’s walls begin to slowly fall, and the two fall in love.

Alisdair: In the beginning, Alisdair presents himself as being a kind and gentle man who tries his best to make Ada feel comfortable. Once she begins talking about the piano, though, and he finds Ada to be unfaithful, he reveals himself as being violent and unstable.

Baines: He, in the beginning, with being big and burly and having tattooed face, seems to be tough and unmoving, but once he gives into Ada and Flora’s request to be shown the way to the piano, we see he has a warm heart and good intention. Near the end, we especially see Baines’ good will by bringing in Flora and treating her as if she was his child, as Alisdair hasn’t done the entire film.

Flora: Upon arriving on the beach to her new home in New Zealand, Flora says she will hardly speak to Alisdair, and especially not call him Papa, throughout the film though, she proves that is not the case. Flora turns her back on her mother for the sake of Alisdar. For example, Flora guides him through boarding up the windows of the house, calling him by the name of Papa. Also, near the end, Flora disregards her mother’s wishes and betrays her by taking the piano key meant for Baines, to Alisdair.

Mis-en-Scene:

When Ada, Baines, Flora and the rest of the islanders are leaving to start a new life, Ada begs for the Piano to be thrown overboard. Once Baines finally agrees to do so, the piano plunges to the bottom of the ocean, taking Ada along with it. Once under water, everything is silent and still.

This scene embodies Ada’s tie to the piano (she is literally tied to to piano).This piano has been her voice for a great majority of her life, and once thrown underwater they are both silenced. As the piano is slowly falling deeper and deeper along with Ada, it resembles that part of her slowly dying — as playing was her primary source of life. While Ada is moving with the piano, she is very calm, but when she realizes there is something of which she loves more to move on to, she struggles free.

As she makes her way back up to the surface, and the piano lies in the deep shadows of the ocean, with Ada’s boot tied to and floating a few feet above it, the image portrays that, that day, a little bit of Ada died (her darker past and association with the island and having her first love taken away from her) died with it. The darkness of the ocean resemble the memories, both incredible and tragic, along with the tainted piano and how they are left behind.

Personal Response:

Personally I loved the film. It allowed and forced you to look deeper within the characters and actions they took part in rather than what was given to you through dialogue. The cool and bluish tone of the film, along with the swampy/muddy/ rainy climate and environment really created the atmosphere in which embodied Ada’s situation.

Most scenes of this film truly had me thoroughly engaged throughout, but one that stuck out to me most was when Ada came back to Baines after he had given up the piano to her. Within this scene, you could truly tell that Baines understood Ada without having to listen to her play piano. He could look into her eyes and know what she may be feeling. With Alisdair, she had to write down what she wanted on a piece of paper, and with Flora, she had to give sign language in order for them to know what she was feeling or what she wanted to say.

The fact that she was down on her knees pleading to him and that he pulled her up to comfort her truly impacted me, because it proves that in film you don’t need dialogue to create a bond between two beings.

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