Woman: Why did I do it? Why did I do it?
The true life story of a gifted musician and his struggle to survive the Nazi occupation of Warsaw is a great reminder that stories about misery, violence, and survival don’t have to be abstract and boring. There is nothing wrong with enjoying such stories as entertainment. There are few things more fascinating than how one man managed to stay alive amidst the complete destruction of his city and his people.
This isn’t a movie about the Holocaust, it’s about Warsaw. We never see a concentration camp, and the only things we know of the world outside of Warsaw we hear on the radio, as the characters do. The destruction of the city is mirrored in the face, body and soul of Adrien Brody (richly deserving Oscar). His eyes go a long way in communicating how something beautiful like music or a pretty girl can keep you alive and whole despite the toll that has been taken.
There’s a shot late in the movie when Brody climbs over a wall and the camera pulls way back to showcase the ruins of the city. Few notice this, but the movie begins with a similar city shot meant to evoke the vitality and strength of Warsaw before the occupation began. If Brody’s jaundice and grizzly beard weren’t enough of a visual symbol of decay, these two shots offer another brilliant and subtle example.
The film is also a great depiction of humanity. In The Pianist, good and evil is not as simple as Jew and Nazi. Some Germans are despicable (making the starved dance), others are altruistic. Some Jews work for the Nazis, selling out their brothers, while others lead the resistance. Evil is not absolute and survival is not a selfish act.
This is much more than another awards-baiting Holocaust movie meant to make you feel bad about yourself. It’s a fantastic piece of cinema.