The Piano

The Piano takes place during the mid-19th century in New Zealand. It is a story about a mute pianist, Ada, and her daughter, Flora, who arrives in New Zealand from Scotland because of the marriage Ada has been sold into. It is a film with many metaphors and subtle cues, it is in many ways unsettling to watch but at the same times it beautifully portrays the problematic relationships between the main characters.

Ada’s piano that she brought with her to New Zealand plays a center role in the film and is Ada’s main way of expression emotions. There are many striking scenes in this film where Ada plays her piano and you can see how liberating it is for her to be able to express her emotions through her piano. Since Ada is mute she communicates to others through small notes, or signing to her daughter who translates. When the film begins we hear Ada as the narrator saying “the voice you hear is not my speaking voice, but my mind’s voice” and it goes on to explain that she had been mute since childhood and no one knows why. At the time I did not realize that the voice we hear in that first scene is actually the voice of her daughter, who even in this part is speaking for her mother. Throughout the movie Floras has to speak for her mother, and many times she takes it upon herself to speak for her in situations where maybe she shouldn’t have. I thought it was interesting that even when we thought Ada was “speaking” for herself in that opening line, she wasn’t.

Some of the most powerful elements of mise-en-scene in this film are the costumes and the hair. The Victorian styled clothing separates Ada and her daughter from the New Zealand natives, when they are dragging their long dressers in the mud it’s obvious that they are the outsiders that do not belong. Both
Ada and Flora wears their hair in tightly wound braids, but during moments of happiness and love their hair is let out to symbolize some sort of freedom and liberation.

Another powerful way to convey emotions in this movie is the use of weather. In the beginning of the film there is a big thunderstorm and the thunder seems to cause Ada distress. Even though the history of Ada’s relationship to Flora’s father remain relatively unknown, we learn that thunder had significant impact on their past.

I was pleased to see that this film came with a happy ending after all the suffering the characters had to go through. When Ada is finally free from the forced marriage and the abuse, she becomes a survivor when she chose to live without her piano.

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3 thoughts on “The Piano

  1. Wow! I have to admit, I did not realize that it is the daughter’s voice that we can hear off screen. I agree with you, the daughter is (besides the piano) the main communication channel of Ada. I just wonder, if Flora made some of her “unwise” decisions because of defiance, or because she thought it was the best for her mother. Great analysis!

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  2. I couldn’t agree with you more on this post! After seeing such painful and emotional scenes from this movie I was happy Ada finally got her happy ending! I also thought it was smart how you compared Flora talking for her mother in the first scene of the movie to how she speaks for her throughout the entire film. Up until this post I actually thought that this was Ada’s voice, not Flora’s.

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  3. I love your analysis of this film, especially the point you make about Ada and Flora’s hair. I think your point about freedom and liberation when they have their hair down is so true. We see that when they are dancing around in their room with their hair down it truly shows their happiness and a feeling of freedom, and we only see this when Ada and Flora are alone together. I think this also ties into your point about them being outsiders, and the idea that throughout the entirely of the film they are like this, even when Ada and Flora are on the boat leaving New Zealand. Ada and Flora still have the same hairstyle they did from the beginning of the film. I think this is ironic because Ada and Flora are forever changed since moving to New Zealand and meeting George and Stewart, yet they still have the same hairstyle, they are still nicely dressed, and look the same as they did when they arrived. It’s as though they were never changed from their experience in New Zealand, as though they are not different people, even though in a way they all are, Flora, George, and Ada especially. As well, the point you bring up about weather I kind of find funny, because it is such a classic movie trope. It’s like ‘the character are depressed and moving to a new place, so let’s make the weather match the mood.’ However, I think for this film, it was important that they did that. Since the main character does not talk, I think through the cinematography of the film it was crucial that they adequately portrayed a mood and atmosphere to its audience so they could sufficiently tell the story of Ada powerfully and sophisticatedly.

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