I enjoyed the style of the opening sequence of The Piano, with flashes of light and a blurred image coming into view that could gradually be identified as fingers covering someone’s eyes. It made me curious about what would follow, in terms of both the film’s visual style and the story it would tell. When a voice that could be identified as the main character began narrating in first person about herself and her story, I assumed she would continue to do so throughout the film. This assumption grew more validated as she informed the audience that she was mute, and we understood that her narration would be our only way of knowing what she was thinking due to the absence of dialogue on her part. But as the background informational sequence came to a close and the story itself commenced, the narration stopped, and we were left to infer what our main character was thinking based solely upon her actions, just as the other characters in the film were.
I understand that this lack of verbal communication in either the form of dialogue or narration from the character Ada was a purposeful choice the filmmakers made. Perhaps they chose to have the majority of the film portrayed that way to solidify Ada’s isolation from everyone except her daughter, and force the audience to feel it as well. However, it was difficult as an audience member to enjoy the story when the protagonist’s thoughts, feelings, and motivations were often unclear. We heard her thoughts at the very beginning of the film as she explained her situation to us, and again at the very end as she described her apparent newfound happiness. But the road she took to get to that happiness was a difficult one, filled with complex twists and turns that did not always come across on screen to me clearly. We knew she was arranged to be married to a man she did not know, in a place far from her home. When she arrived, she became entangled in a messy affair with another man, who she eventually came to love after much conflict. The reasons for these relationship issues would have been far more understandable had we been able to see inside Ada’s head more. Therefore, while it was possible to follow the plot, it was difficult to truly sympathize with any of the three main adult characters.
Throughout the film, Ada’s piano appeared as a motif. It was first shown to bring her happiness, almost as if it were a substitute for her voice. It went on to create initial conflict between Ada and the man she was to marry, Alisdair Stewart. Later it brought her and local man, George Baines, together in some tension-filled visits that eventually lead to their relationship. When Ada decided to finally be rid of the piano as an unwanted piece of her past, its destruction nearly resulted in her death. The piano was an important subject of the visual aspects of the film as well, appearing in several striking shots on the beach in New Zealand, then later in the homes of the characters. The visual style of the film overall was beautiful, bringing sadness, drama, and dreamlike qualities to life on screen to create a great cinematic work.