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.