Setting and Morality in The Pianist
Setting and circumstances we find ourselves in create the person we become and choose to be. In The Pianist directed by Roman Polanski setting was used to develop the viewer’s understanding of the characters of Szpilman and Hosenfeld. Szpilman is a Jewish citizen of Warsaw during World War Two, who faces many struggles throughout his life. Hosenfeld is a German officer during World War Two. The physical setting of the Hospital and the Warsaw ghetto developed the viewer’s understanding of Szpilman’s will to survive and his strong moral compass. The physical setting of the prisoner of war camp and the abandoned buildings in Warsaw developed the viewer’s understanding of Hosenfeld’s remorse and regret for his actions during World War Two, as can be seen through the techniques of cinematography and dialogue.
The physical setting of the hospital was used to develop understanding of the character of Szpilman and his will to survive. When Szpilman is surviving on the streets of Warsaw, he finds refuge in an abandoned hospital. Through a high angle close up shot, Szpilman is shown drinking dirty, contaminated water from a bucket with his hands. The Nazis have reduced Szpilman to an animal like state, by making him so desperate as to drink dirty water out of a bucket. Szpilman has been diminished to a state of desperation as he is sacrificing his dignity for survival. This shows the audience that Szpilman’s strong sense of survival has aided his strength for life in the abandoned hospital. He has lost his family, personal belongings yet his survival is his first priority. The viewer again sees this strong will to survive in the hospital in a point of view shot. Broken glass frames the shot of Szpilman watching as Nazi’s burn bodies on the street. Watching this gives Szpilman motivation as he refuses to become a victim but instead uses the fear to become more determined to survive. These horrible actions could have easily happened to him yet he does not give up but views the horror first hand. These horrible circumstances have given him the opportunity to show the best of himself and his ability to survive the harsh conditions that have been forced upon him. It is almost paradoxical that at one of Szpilman’s lowest and most desperate points physically is in a hospital, which is meant to help and heal. But Szpilman carries on and refuses to let his physical surroundings change his strong motivation to survive. The will to survive is often defined as “a type of survival instinct that prompts individuals to put forth effort to overcome situations that are life threatening and continue to enjoy the benefits of living.” (wiseGEEK). But what does it really take to have the will to survive? How do you tell how much your will to survive been tested? The struggle that the audience sees Szpilman push through within the abandoned hospital shows that his will to survive overpowers his want for it all just to be over. Szpilman wants all of his suffering and pain to become something more than just that, but for him to survive the war for himself and to live for his family. His will to survive was fully tested as he managed to survive all alone as a Jew in the abandoned hospital in Warsaw.
Szpilman’s time spent in the physical setting of the Warsaw Ghetto developed his character and his strong moral compass. Within the ghetto Szpilman is forced to make many tough and life change decisions and sacrifices that affected both himself and his family. When the idea is propositioned to Szpilman to join the Jewish police force in the ghetto, he responds with “thank you, I’ve got work” . This piece of dialogue shows the sacrifice that Szpilman has to make to keep his moral integrity. He refuses to be the person to beat and abuse the Jewish people within the ghetto. Even with his family starving he refuses to gain money through this immoral source, and would rather keep his dignity intact than feed his family and have a better life by hurting his own population. We again see Szpilman making sacrifices for himself and his family, with a mid shot from a slightly low angle. Szpilman is playing piano in a Jewish cafe for rich members of the Jewish population. Szpilman’s facial expression is blank and vacant, at this point playing the piano is almost a chore as he lacks the passion he usually experiences when playing the piano. His face has split lighting with half of face in shadow with the other half in light, this shows his internal struggle of what he wants to do and what he has to do. The Jewish population outside the cafe are starving and dying on the streets, but the people in the cafe are eating nice food and are in comfortable living conditions, but by playing he feels as if he supports the separation between the Jewish population and the Nazi control over his people. As the people he is playing for have gained their money through bribes to the Nazis, so he believes he is supporting this unethical way of obtaining money. He is playing the piano as a matter of survival as it is what is feeding his family. Szpilman’s conflicted actions shows us his strong moral compass as he is only doing what he must do to survive, in the Warsaw Ghetto. The condition of the warsaw ghetto has forced Szpilman to make decisions that compromised his moral position and his internal struggle to do what was wrong but necessary shows his strong moral compass. These sacrifices we see Szpilman make are the same sacrifices the director Roman Polanski made as a child during the Holocaust. Polanski too was separated from his family by a Jewish police officer. Polanski was the best person to show Szpilman’s struggle as he experienced the same struggle within his own life and has a personal connection to the hardship and struggles experienced by Szpilman.
The physical setting of the Warsaw Ghetto developed Szpilman’s strong moral compass. The physical setting of the prisoner of war camp and the streets of Warsaw developed the viewer’s understanding of Hosenfeld’s remorse and regret for his actions during World War Two. As a German officer Hosenfeld has made many decisions he has come to regret at the end of the war, when he is in a prisoner of war camp. Through a close up shot the audience sees Hosenfeld behind a barbed fence looking guilty. This shot shows Hosenfeld at his lowest point physically but at his highest point morally. This is because he understands the right and wrong within his actions and is willing to admit fault and responsibility for his actions. The distraught emotion of Hosenfeld’s face suggest his regret as he is now feeling the weight of his actions. Hosenfeld is experiencing what he subjected the Jewish population too. Hosenfeld again shows his remorse and regret for his actions when he hears Szpilman play the piano, with a mid high angle shot. Hearing the piano strikes something inside Hosenfeld, as he chooses to help Szpilman survive. He feels regret for what he has done to Szpilman and the Jewish population, as he is now seeing the repercussions of his actions. He is seeing the love and passion Szpilman is putting into the piano and realising that he is taken so much away from him. Hosenfeld’s regret and guilt is triggered in his mind as he is now understanding on a personal level what he has done to so many people. We all know how easy it is to make decisions affecting people’s lives without seeing the repercussions of your actions. But Hosenfeld is now being confronted with the consequences his decisions have had on Szpilman on a personal level.
All of this relates to Polanski’s purpose for the film, “to show the best and worst of humanity”. Hosenfeld represents both aspects as before meeting Szpilman he had vacant expressions on his face, signing away lives without a single thought to the consequences of his actions. But after he meets Szpilman, we see him helping a person who should be his ‘enemy’, but instead he sees Szpilman as his chance for redemption and show the “best.. Of humanity”. The character of Hosenfeld shows his remorse and regret for his actions through the physical setting of the streets of Warsaw and the prisoner of war camp. The Pianist thus uses setting to develop the viewer’s understanding of the characters of Szpilman and Hosenfeld. The audience sees Szpilman’s will to survive and his strong moral compass through the physical setting of the hospital and the Warsaw Ghetto, settings crucial to the development of the film and the main character.
Links between the beginning and ending
In the film The Pianist directed by Roman Polanski, the beginning and ending of the film are linked for the purpose of demonstrating the main character, Wladyslaw Szpilman’s life prior to World War 2 and post World War 2. The links between the beginning and ending also convey the idea that hope transcends human horror and is instrumental to our survival. Polanski used language features such as dialogue, lighting, costume, music and camera work to help convey this purpose. Firstly, Polanski uses the beginning of the film to portray Szpilman’s life prior to World War 2 and to reveal elements of his character.
At the beginning of the film, there is a shot of Szpilman’s hands playing the piano, and the camera slowly reveals his face. He is being recorded playing Nocturne in C sharp minor written by Chopin, a Polish composer, in a Polish radio station. Here Polanski utilises this piece to convey Szpilman’s talent in music. He also introduces this piece to the audience, as it will later become an important motif throughout the film, symbolizing hope for Szpilman and being instrumental to his survival. As he continues to play, bombs exploding getting closer each time. Polanski used the bombing in this scene to establish the conflict of the film, World War 2. The recording men start to panic, in contrast to Szpilman, who, apart from a startle, remains calm and continues to play the piano, ignoring the commotion. It is not until a bomb explodes in the building he is in, shattering the glass close to him, that he begins to evacuate. This further gives insight to Szpilman’s personality, because by refusing to stop playing, it demonstrates his passion and dedication to the piano and his determination to not let the Nazi’s actions take this away from him. As Szpilman hurries down the stairs to evacuate, he briefly meets a woman named Dorota who says, “I came especially to meet you. I love your playing.” Polanski uses dialogue to again demonstrate his personality. This is how the audience first learn that Dorota admires Szpilman as a piano player and how highly he is viewed as a musician. The following scene is in Szpilman’s family home. Polanski uses warm colored lighting such as orange hues to insinuate that the family is happy. Finally, Szpilman’s family members all wear nice, clean clothes and appear well groomed. Polanski’s choice of specific costumes for the family members conveys that Szpilman came from a privileged and wealthy family. Therefore, Polanski used the beginning of the film to develop the character of Szpilman as a talented, dedicated man who is admired by many. This depiction of his character allows the audience to easily sympathize with him later on in the film. Polanski also uses the beginning to portray his life prior to World War 2, as a pianist as well as coming from a privileged family, he is later physically separated from due to the war.
Secondly, Polanski also uses the ending of the film to depict Szpilman’s life post World War 2. At the end of the film, Szpilman is shown playing in a large concert hall in front of thousands. He plays Chopin’s Grande Polonaise Brillante in the key of E flat major. The huge audience demonstrates a sense of accomplishment for Szpilman and the respect his talent deserved. Polanski utilises music to evoke a sense of optimism. The major key in music creates a cheerful and uplifting mood. This is the first piece of music which uses the major tonality, contributing to an overall sense of hope and optimism that the ending gives. In the scene prior to the concert, Polanski reintroduces a strikingly similar scene of Szpilman in the same Polish radio station, recording the exact same piece. The beautiful melancholic melody of the nocturne returns and Polanski purposely uses this sound language feature to jog the audience’s memory, allowing them to recognize the parallel and be reminded of the beginning of the film. Due to this evident connection to the beginning of the film, it creates the false perception that little has changed between Szpilman’s life at the beginning and the ending, and that he has now returned to normality. Despite these parallels, between the beginning and ending, Polanski also uses subtle differences to convey the real message.
Finally, Polanski uses the parallels and differences between the beginning and ending of the film to portray Szpilman’s life and how it has changed as a result of the war. He also conveys the idea that hope transcends human horror and is instrumental to our survival. In the ending, despite the similarity of the scene with Szpilman playing in the Polish radio station, Polanski utilises camera work by shooting this scene from the opposite angle to the scene at the beginning of the film. Here, Polanski also uses costume because Szpilman is no longer wearing the watch he wore in the opening scene. As well as this, another difference is throughout the ending of the film, the audience sees no sign of Szpilman’s family as they saw in the opening scene. All these differences are employed for the purpose that is to portray Szpilman’s life prior to World War 2 and post World War 2. They demonstrate that despite the ending appearing unchanged, as if back to normal, things have in fact changed, and his entire family has gone. Polanski used these differences subtly, however, to emphasize the idea that Szpilman’s life prior war and post-war, hasn’t only changed physically, but the majority of the war’s impact happened internally for Szpilman. Despite everything he has lost and been through, the scene of him playing the piano shows that he hasn’t lost his music. As music plays a big role in the beginning and the ending of the film, it demonstrates Szpilman’s passion. It shows that his passion for music greatly enabled Szpilman to overcome the horrors of the war and remain resilient. In both the beginning and ending of the film, Polanski chose to have no dialogue during the Polish radio station scene and the only sound is the piano music. This lack of dialogue is used to highlight the music, as rather than speaking, Szpilman tells his story through the piano. Music was a symbol of hope for Szpilman, conveying Polanski’s idea that hope transcends human horror, and is instrumental to our survival.
In conclusion, in the film The Pianist by Roman Polanski, the beginning and the ending of the film are linked for the purpose of portraying Szpilman’s life prior to the war and post-war. The beginning and the ending were also linked for the purpose of conveying the idea that hope transcends human horror, and is instrumental to our survival. Polanski used the beginning of the film to reveal Szpilman’s personality as dedicated and talented. He also used the beginning to portray his life before the war as a loved pianist and coming from a privileged family. The ending of the film was used to portray Szpilman’s life after the war, being a successful pianist. The ending was also used to mirror the beginning of the film, drawing the audience back past all the