The Piano has just made its way in to my personal top twenty great films list. Although there has been a lot of shuffling around since I started film studies. I used to have lists of films that I enjoyed watching and now the lists that consists of films that I have a new found respect for because they are well made. Lately I have definitely experienced a sense of fear, that there isn’t enough time left in my life to watch all of the films available and watch the latest releases.
Jane Campion wrote and directed The Piano in 1993. One of the main themes that I noticed was her use of binary opposites. Mainly cultural, class and gender. For example, from the very beginning of the film, the main character Ada informs the viewer that she no longer speaks and is mute – able-bodied versus disabled – this is the primary set of opposites. We are then introduced to the second set of contrasting opposites as she introduces her daughter Flora (mother versus daughter), and then another when she announces her arranged marriage (man versus woman) . When they arrive in New Zealand there is the contrast of land versus water, and also the Indigenous peoples versus the foreigners. As the film progresses many more opposing themes are made evident.
In human culture we typically can only be understood by one another in relation. The use of binary opposites in The Piano, highlights the fact that the place and setting for the film is filled with contrasting situations and this tension builds and builds to the moment Ada is attacked with an axe by her husband. Campion is able to distinguish many of the class differences through use of costume, whereas the cultural differences where identifiable through the use of symbols – the Maori’s had tattoos where as in many scenes the British would tend to have crucifix (Christianity) in the background. Campion would have featured these particular binary opposites because it allowed her the opportunity to discuss global issues in a not so confronting or upfront way. If I had to make one negative comment it would be how she has portrayed the Maori people. I would not be surprised if the characters in her film offended the Indigenous people of New Zealand. She really made them come across as childish and unintelligent, which is so far from being accurate. The only way she can justify the creation of such characters is if she is suggesting that this is how the Ada and the other foreigners of New Zealand at that time presumed the Maori’s to be.
Finally and on a more positive note, what I found most fascinating is the way in which she uses the Piano. As far as the plot goes the piano is an instrument in which the protagonist is affiliated; when Ada plays, it is one of the only ways she can communicate and express feeling. However, if I were to analysis the story in regards to all of the above mentioned binary opposites, the piano is symbolic to to how you can take two opposites (literal black and white keys/ Sharps and Flats) then together they can create something harmonious (music). So by the end of the film you have a man (George) and a woman (Ada) from different walks of life and social standing (Upper class and lower class), and even though they are different in many ways, the are able to connect with one another and the piano is the object that unites them.