Holocaust On Air in “The Pianist”

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There is a controversial debate regarding the film The Pianist (2002) directed by Roman Polanski on whether it is a truthful representation of the Holocaust which involved systematic, bureaucratic, state-sponsored persecution of six million Jews (Introduction to the Holocaust). In particular, there are many views that the film was not focused on the Holocaust event itself, but rather primarily intended to convey the power of art and the relationship between aesthetics and politics. Specifically, Polanski used devastating, chaotic conditions of the Holocaust and the beauty of music which moved the German officer’s heart as two contrasting aspects to emphasize the power of art in society.

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In other words, Holocaust was one of the minor focus in the film as it was simply utilized as a background to magnify how aesthetics “ in this case, music “ is strongly influential even in that kind of threatening period. It is obvious that art is one of the main points Polanski wanted to discuss through the film as its title is even called The Pianist; the significance of music as a theme of this movie cannot be dismissed. However, the incident of the Holocaust also should not be dismissed as well because directorial choices and details of the film such as sound effect and design of the shelter meticulously displayed all the depressing situations in which Jews experienced during the Holocaust. The Holocaust is not concealed under aesthetics but was rather truthfully represented in the film; Polanski equally highlighted both music and the Holocaust, not heavily focusing one over the other.

First and foremost, many details directed by Polanski in the film expertly picture the life and emotions of Jews hiding from the Germans, which implies that Polanski took a lot of effort in portraying what the Holocaust would have been like in the perspective of Jewish people. For example, in the scenes when Szpilman lived in an apartment where he was locked inside with the assistance from a married couple, there were two major directorial choices that allowed the film to show specifically what the life of Jews hiding from the Germans would have been. Firstly, the usage of various sound effects in these particular scenes built up the tension of the film. For example, the car engine sound and the sound of car doors being slammed and Germans speaking German arouse the feeling of nervousness right away because if Szpilman gets caught, it will lead to very negative consequences. Then, the tension builds up more as Szpilman hears Germans climbing up the stairs and knocking hardly on the doors near where he is living. Such sound effects produced as the scene progresses make even the audience feel nervous, which conveys the feelings of Jewish people had during the Holocaust more effectively because they are experiencing similar emotions.

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