The Piano tells the story of mute piano player Ada and her daughter Flora, who find themselves in New Zealand where Ada is married to frontiersman Alisdair Stewart while getting caught up in an affair with his neighbor Baines. Not only does The Piano do a magnificent job in telling the dramatic story of Ada and her deep love for her piano, the film is also filled with symbolism.
Naturally, the piano is a central motive in the story. The image of the piano left behind on the beach symbolizes the loss and loneliness that Ada feels. She has to fight to get it back, but once she does, she soon loses the ability to play and thereby her desire to live. The piano is the voice she somehow lost at the age of six, and Ada uses the music to express her feelings, her sadness and desires, her sacrifices and her passion. Stewart’s inability to understand the importance of her piano already indicates that there is no connection between him and Ada, whereas Baines clearly seems to understand the passion that Ada displays while playing. When Baines gives the piano back and it is finally in Stewart’s home, Ada refuses to play, not wanting to share her emotions and feelings with him.
The dark colors and gloominess of the environment further stipulates the deep sadness and loneliness that Ada feels. Her clothing and hairstyle complement the stiffness yet rigor with which she keeps her head high. The play performed by the town’s people and Flora also foreshadows the coming doom, with the shadow figures of a hand being chopped off by an axe. The future loss of one of her fingers earlier was already symbolized by the presence of a tree-legged dog. Moreover, the sea symbolizes Ada’s loneliness and despair. It brought her to the beach where she had to leave her piano behind, and at the end her frustration and sadness leads her to attempt to commit suicide by trying to drown herself with the piano, although she changes her mind halfway through.
These strong symbols, the style, the customers, the colors and the motifs all contribute to our understanding of Ada’s feelings and her despair, despite her inability to express it verbally. It makes us completely involved in the dramatic, emotional and passionate story of the love and loss of Ada’s piano.