Feminism in The Piano

The Piano was a very strange and unique film with many aspects of feminism. The films protagonist is Ada, a mute widow who has just arrived in New Zealand as part of an arranged marriage. She values two things her daughter and piano. There is no male protagonist but there are two men key to the narrative. First we are introduced to Alisdair, Ada’s husband who does not understand her relationship to the piano. Then there is Baines, whom Ada creates a deal with concerning romantic interactions for piano “play time.”

The Piano goes against the lesson on psychoanalysis in terms of subject versus object. Ada, the female, is the hero. Women are usually viewed as objects but Ada is the focus, the subject. There is no male “hero” character to identify with. As a viewer, I felt sympathetic for Ada. She was forced into a new marriage with someone she has never even met and completely changed to an unfamiliar environment. Ada not only holds the camera’s attention, she serves as the hero in the narration. While most tales of arranged marriages display the women submitting to the new husband, Ada resists. She never speaks to Alisdair and refuses to let him touch her. This can be seen as a form of feminist resistance.


Mulvey’s two “pleasures” are seen in the film. The first being Scopophilla, which is when people or images are, viewed as erotic objects. Alisdair and Baines both view Ada as an erotic object. When we first meet Alisdair he does not care about the piano, which is extremely important to Ada. Despite her efforts to take the piano, it is left on the beach. Later we see the two laying together. Alisdair is quickly frustrated that Ada won’t let him touch her. It is clear that Alisdair views Ada as an erotic object. Initially Baines sees Ada as an erotic object. Baines tricks Ada into teaching him to play the piano but instead of lessons he wants erotic emotions. Mulvey states that the male gaze motivates men. The piano becomes the focus of sexual desire, fetishism. The piano drives Ada to engage physically with Baines. Lastly voyeurism is prevalent throughout the film. We see the interactions between Baines and Ada, obviously they are unaware of the audience watching them but Alisdair also watches from under the floorboards.


Despite for Ada being seen as an object, surprisingly the film objectifies men. The first nude character we see is Baines followed by Ada. It is rare for men to be nude and but somewhat common for women to be in films. It is also strange how Baines is shown first. In another scene Alisdair is shown nude but Ada remains clothed. This was somewhat unusually to me because it went against the norm.


Although there are some feminist aspects in the film, I don’t think Ada would be the best candidate for displaying feminist film characters. Essentially she is choosing between two rapists in order to achieve her piano. Eventually she chooses one in order to gratify her need of the piano.  There is a very overwhelming sense of male supremacy.


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