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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Pianist is a 2002 Oscar-winning movie about a young Jewish musician living in Warsaw desperately trying to make sense of the Nazi invasion of his country and the subsequent degradations, the creation of the Warsaw Ghetto, and the madness that led to the Holocaust. There is graphic violence, but unlike so many movies in which violence is shown simply to add surface-level excitement to an otherwise formulaic Hollywood blockbuster, the violence is intended to reveal a glimpse of the real-life horrors European Jews endured at the hands of the Nazis during World War II and to leave audiences with the conviction that atrocities and genocide such as this must never happen again. Nonetheless, the violence is graphic: Men and women are shot in the head for little to no reason, a man in a wheelchair is tossed off a balcony, a man lying injured in the road is run over by a tank. There is also the wartime violence of machine-gun battles, bombed-out cities, explosions, and casualties. Profanity includes "f--k" and "s--t." The movie should inspire thought and discussion on the extremes of evil and good in humankind, the individual acts of heroism undertaken by those whose names will never make the history books, and the transcendent and unifying nature of music and art.
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What's the story?
THE PIANIST is the emotionally devastating true story of Wladyslaw Szpilman (Adrien Brody), a Jewish pianist in Poland caught up in the horrors of World War II. The Nazis invade Poland, confine Jews to a ghetto, and eventually ship them off to concentration camps. There is heartbreaking and graphic violence. Yet, director Roman Polanski delivers this difficult message in a very thoughtful, skillful way. Just when the audience is on the verge of becoming numbed by the grim life in the ghetto, the pianist escapes for a day and walks through the bright flower stalls in the crowded market outside the ghetto. It reminds the viewer of how far the pianist has fallen from a "normal" life, but it gives the viewer the same brief respite that it gives the pianist. Just when the Nazi brutality against the Jews seems unbearable, a music-loving German soldier treats the pianist kindly while Jewish victims prey on each other.
Is it any good?
The most effective parts of the movie are the small, vivid, almost unbearably poignant human moments. In one, a family awaiting a transport train that will take them away to a concentration camp combines all their remaining money to buy a single caramel, which they carefully divide into four tiny portions. The Pianist is an intense movie that is best for high school kids and up.
Roman Polanski, himself a survivor of the Holocaust who lost many family members, powerfully conveys the epic journey of a man who is transformed by a series of events from an elegantly dressed, highly cultured musician to a scavenging, debased shell of a human being.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why movies such as The Pianist, which is based on a true story, are so important. Are there any current events you can think of that are similar to the plight of Jews in World War II?
In so many movies, violence serves no purpose but to provide a burst of excitement, to create action, to keep the audience entertained. How is this movie different? What do you think is the purpose of showing graphic violence in this movie?
While most people are familiar with what transpired during the Holocaust, what specifics did you learn that added to your understanding of World War II, the Warsaw Ghetto, and the brutal and unspeakable genocide? As the true story of a Jewish musician who lived through such a terrible time, how did this movie personalize these events?
- In theaters: December 27, 2002
- On DVD or streaming: May 27, 2003
- Cast: Adrien Brody, Emilia Fox, Thomas Kretschmann
- Director: Roman Polanski
- Studio: Focus Features
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Great Boy Role Models, History
- Character strengths: Courage, Perseverance
- Run time: 150 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: violence and mature, upsetting themes
- Last updated: September 21, 2019
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