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Film / The Piano

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"The voice you hear is not my speaking voice, but my mind's voice."
Ada McGrath

The Piano is a 1993 drama written and directed by Jane Campion, produced by Jan Chapman, and starring Holly Hunter, Harvey Keitel, Sam Neill, and Anna Paquin (in her acting debut).

Hunter stars as a mute woman named Ada McGrath who, along with her precocious daughter Flora (Paquin), are shipped off to New Zealand after Ada's father arranges a marriage with her new husband, Alisdair Stewart (Neill). Ada leaves her native early Victorian Scotland, but brings along her beloved piano, which she considers to be her voice, regardless of her silence. Of course, Alisdair doesn't bother with the piano, and it is left on the beach. This leads to Ada's initial reticence at the marriage becoming active hostility, and things become more tense between the newlyweds when Stewart sells the piano to a neighbor, George Baines (Keitel).

Baines proposes a deal to Ada - she can earn her piano back, key-by-key, if she lets him do certain things while she plays. These "things" begin as simple as allowing him to touch her knee through a hole in her stocking, but grow into more overt requests. While Ada initially begins these lessons as a means solely to gain access to her piano, she grows to love Baines, and the two begin a clandestine affair. At the same time, Flora's boredom in the new home leads her to start interfering with the adults around her, and Ada's hatred of Stewart leads him to grow more and more frustrated as things grow ever closer to a breaking point.

The film received overwhelmingly positive reviews from film critics and was nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director, of which it would end up winning three; Best Actress for Holly Hunter, Best Supporting Actress for Anna Paquin, and Best Original Screenplay for Jane Campion. It was also a huge box office success, as despite its small $7 million production budget, it earned just over $40 million in North America and a total of $140 million worldwide.

Not to be confused with The Piano Teacher, or The Pianist


  • Ambiguous Situation: Is the twisted relationship between Ada, her husband and their neighbour good or bad? Decide yourself.
  • Arranged Marriage: Ada and Alisdair's marriage.
  • Axe-Crazy: Alisdair becomes this in the end, in a disturbingly literal way.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Ada got a finger chopped off and was nearly raped by the man who was married to her, when he turned psychotic. And she nearly drowns after throwing out her old piano due to bad memories from said psychotic ex-husband. But she and her daughter are safe, she's starting to talk again, and is with Baines, who is a good, decent man.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: Alisdair can't understand the values and morals of the native Māori. Likewise, they can't understand his.
  • Book Dumb: Baines is illiterate, but emotionally he's one of the most perceptive characters in the film. He is perhaps the only person who can effectively communicate with both whites and the Māori, and the only person who doesn't immediately think Ada is some sort of freak.
  • The Cast Show Off: Holly Hunter, an accomplished pianist, played all of the pieces in the film. It should be known that Michael Nyman's score is not easy to play. Possibly also a case of Cast the Expert.
  • Chekhov's Axe: Overlapping with Ax-Crazy in one scene.
  • *Click* Hello: Alisdair wakes up Baines this way.
  • Cooldown Hug: Right after slapping him and venting all her (voiceless) anger, Baines just holds Ada close.
  • Culture Clash: During the play about the Bluebeard, the Māori sitting in the audience assume it's real and start saving the girls. It takes quite a while to explain them it was just a play, and it's obvious they don't really understand it. Likewise Alisdair can't figure out why he can't buy the land from the Māori - after all, they don't cultivate it nor they are running lumber operation, so why not sell their ancestral burial grounds?
  • Cute Mute: Ada.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Ada
  • Determinator: Ada's most defining trait is probably her stubbornness. She is going to get her piano back. It's also worth mentioning that Ada is mute out of choice, and not because she was born that way. She just doesn't want to talk.
  • Disappeared Dad: Flora has never met her real father; he ran off before she was born.
  • The Ditz: Nessie and aunt Morag. The latter combines it with Stiff Upper Lip.
  • Elective Mute: Ada has been mute by choice since her childhood.
  • Evil Wears Black: Averted. Ada wears black dresses through most of the film, making her look all the more pale and ghostly. Which only further fuels gossips about her, especially after she ripped her white wedding dress.
  • Fantasy-Forbidding Father: Alisdair doesn't take much of an active role with Flora, but he clearly disagrees with most fun things Flora wants to do. The piano lessons on a carved table strike him as disturbing, not to mention that he abandoned the piano on the beach.
  • Fingore: Alisdair cuts off Ada's finger in a fit of rage.
  • Foreshadowing: Count all the scenes with close-ups on different axes chopping something.
  • Get Out!: Baines shouts at Ada to get out of his house if she has no feelings for him.
  • Going Native: Baines shows signs of this.
  • Harmful to Minors: Flora watches as Alisdair chops off her mother's finger. Then she has to deliver it to Baines.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: When Ada returns to Baines after he gave her the piano back, he takes a quick one before trying to convince her that they shouldn't go any further with their affair.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Baines returns the piano to Ada before their arrangement is over, since he doesn't want her to feel like a whore and wants her to like him instead of being squicked by his mere presence. And while "beloved" isn't the right word for it, Alisdair ultimately decides to let them be together for her happiness rather than let their toxic marriage continue.
  • It's All My Fault: For a good reason Baines blames himself for what happened to Ada.
  • Kids Are Cruel: Flora torments a dog so she can comfort it afterwards.
  • Lonely Doll Girl: This is probably why Flora torments the dog in the first place. She has no one to socialize with, as her mother increasingly ignores her and Alisdair forbids her to play with the native children.
  • Lonely Piano Piece: "The Promise", the score's main theme.
  • Loners Are Freaks: Everyone's reaction to Ada for her silence and her general lack of interest in other people.
  • Love Hurts: To the point where it can almost kill you.
  • Mail-Order Bride: Alisdair never met Ada before her arrival, interacting with only a few sparse letters. Most likely with her father.
  • Male Frontal Nudity: Baines.
  • Marital Rape License: Where Ada and Alisdair's marriage was heading. It disturbed both of them.
  • Marriage Before Romance: So painfully averted. There is no romance whatsoever between Ada and Alisdair, and the longer their marriage exists, the worse it gets.
  • Missing Mom: Ada's mother is never seen or mentioned.
  • Misunderstood Loner with a Heart of Gold: Baines
  • Parental Neglect: Flora spends more and more time unsupervised while her mother visits Baines.
  • The Peeping Tom: Alisdair finds out about the affair between Ada and Baines pretty fast. More - he catches them red-handed. Instead of stopping them, he keeps on watching.
  • Plot-Inciting Infidelity: The plot takes a dramatic turn once Alisdair starts to suspect and eventually confirms that Baines and Ada have a romance. All three of them go through worlds of pain for this, especially Ada.
  • Rape as Drama: Inverted. Ada thinks that Baines wants to force sex from her, and it really looks that way at first, but it becomes more and more obvious that he's simply having a hard time expressing his feelings and slowly falling in love with her. On the other hand, there is Alisdair...
  • Raven Hair, Ivory Skin/Eerie Pale-Skinned Brunette: Ada is pale and dark-haired, but the effect this has on the other characters varies from person to person.
  • Reality Has No Subtitles: Almost all dialogues in Māori are left without translation, except for two lines. The same for most of Ada's signs. It should be also noted that all the lines that got subtitles could easily be understood without them from the context.
  • Rule of Symbolism: A very non-subtle case. When Baines starts cunnilingus with Ada, a dog starts loudly licking Alisdair's hand as he watches his cheating wife.
  • Sexless Marriage: Ada doesn't allow Alisdair to even touch her.
  • Skip of Innocence: Flora does this often.
  • Snooping Little Kid: Flora can't keep out of other people's business, and it ultimately causes trouble when she starts talking about what she sees.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: After crossing half of the world in the damp hold of a ship and then being left to the elements on the beach, the piano is completely off-tune and requires extensive work to be of any use.
  • Sword over Head: Alisdair had Baines, the man who had an affair with his wife, at his mercy, with the musket's barrel pressed to his face. After a brief monologue he decides that it will be the best for everyone to let Ada leave with Baines and have a happy life.
  • Symbolic Serene Submersion: Ada nearly drowns when she is pulled overboard by the piano. She does not struggle at first, and there are several shots showing her being pulled down, heavy skirts trailing up around her, with a calm, resigned expression on her face.
  • Translation Convention: Ada and her signs are usually not translated for the viewer and left up to Flora to explain to the other characters. Flora is often not very faithful to the original message. Then, when Ada goes to Baines after he returned the piano to her, there are subtitles to her signs when she's scolding Flora. As if it wasn't obvious without them.
  • Troubling Unchildlike Behavior: Alisdair reads this into a game Flora is playing with the Māori children and tells her never to do it again. Technically averted in that Flora is neither traumatized nor trying to be an adult, she was just playing with the other children.
  • Tsundere: Ada
  • Yandere: Alisdair