Making a film about the atrocities of World War II is like walking a tight rope – one false move or overplayed gesture could cause everything to go wrong, but if you play it expertly and with grace then it is a work of art. This is especially true with portraying those affected by the ruthless and beyond barbaric acts of the Nazis. While there’s a certain strength to a film that doesn’t shy away from the terrible things that happened throughout Europe during that time and that is absolutely something to respect, there does come a point where it is too much and enters the realm of depressing and almost unwatchable.
Take for example films like “Schindler’s List” and “Life is Beautiful,” both films that put themselves in the thick of the struggle and show every excruciatingly painful and horrifying things the Nazis would do to any one they considered less than superior. But at the center of it all, there’s a heart to these films – a reason to life beyond the struggle to survive. The main characters in these films put everything they have on the line so that others will live on, because they realize that people should live and not just survive.
To me, that makes those films watchable. They’re not just gruesome tales about those who lived through the war against the Nazis, but morality tales about how the good and kind in men will always outshine and prevail over the evil and darkness. If you take out that moral center and leave only the fight for survival in the face of these monsters, then you’re left with “The Pianist,” an unbelievably depressing movie that I respect but would never watch again.
The film is based off of the memoirs of Wladyslaw Szpilman, a Polish-Jewish concert pianist at the beginning of WWII. Szpilman (Adrien Brody) lives in Warsaw with his family as the Nazis invade their country and delegate a specific ghetto area of town for the Jewish, as he and his family fight to stay together and survive despite everything the Nazis throw at them, while Szpilman never gives up on being the best pianist he can possibly be.
“The Pianist” is unforgiving, unflinching and honest about the fight Szpilman had to contend with for over six years. Every violent act is given the stunned silence it truly deserves without anything ever losing its weight. But as Szpilman witnesses all these horrible acts and merely does what he can to survive, that tight rope walker starts to overplay his movement and starts to fall off that rope.
Watching a man hopelessly cling to life while it is being extinguished around him is only watchable for so long before it becoming daunting. Watching this for over two and a half hours, like all faith and hope is gone from the world, makes it a bleak and unpleasant experience. Even though Adrien Brody’s performance is hauntingly beautiful as he just gets more desperate and ragged over time, the film doesn’t give us anything to grab onto. While I don’t think that hurts the film, it does hurt the experience.
I would recommend “The Pianist” to those who are curious, but only believe it is worth one viewing. It is a respectful film for its brutal honesty and is worth watching for Adrien Brody’s performance, but the onslaught of bloodshed is a massive weight to carry without some form of morality and humanity.
Final Grade: C+