A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Piano is a complex adult drama with sexual relationships driving its plot. George is shown fully nude from the front in the beginning of a sex scene between him and Ada. In addition to a rather graphically staged play depicting violent acts, Ada's husband attacks Ada with a real axe, chopping off her finger -- a scene accentuated by blood squirting on the face of Ada's nearby daughter. He also holds George at gunpoint. While the language is not often explicit, the emotional intensity of the husband's rage is obviously heavy.
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What's the story?
THE PIANO tells the story of a mute (by choice) Scottish woman of the 19th century, Ada (Holly Hunter), and her daughter Flora (Anna Paquin) as they move to New Zealand for Ada to fulfill the obligations of a marriage that her father has arranged. Her husband Stewart (Sam Neill) is awkward and stilted in his interactions with her. He doesn't appreciate her connection with the piano that she has brought with her from Scotland, which leavers her open to the affection of a Maori neighbor, George Baines (Harvey Keitel), who does understand the connection and uses the piano as a way to get close to Ada.
Is it any good?
Writer/director Jane Campion's The Piano is a poetic film, rich with metaphor, recurring visual motifs, and a masterful score by Michael Nyman. Watching this film for its story alone may leave many viewers wanting. The true core of the film is the impressionistic rendering of the sexual awakening of the repressed Ada at the hands of George Baines. The pace is slow, as time is taken to focus on the lush scenery of the New Zealand forest and the elaborate clothing and decorations marking the time period and its conservatism.
For those with the patience, this is a rewarding film filled with great performances. In fact, Holly Hunter won the best actress Oscar for playing Ada -- proving that a great actress doesn't need spoken dialogue to express herself vividly -- while Anna Paquin won the supporting actress award for her role.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why it's important that Ada chooses not to speak, acting as a mute, despite having no physical disability preventing her from doing so. How does Stewart treat Ada and her piano? In contrast, how does George treat her? Is it right for George to blackmail Ada into sexual situations with him? Are Stewart's reactions to George and Ada appropriate or understandable? What function do the Maoris have in the film?
- In theaters: November 12, 1993
- On DVD or streaming: January 20, 1998
- Cast: Harvey Keitel, Holly Hunter, Sam Neill
- Director: Jane Campion
- Studio: Artisan Entertainment
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 121 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: moments of extremely graphic sexuality
- Last updated: September 21, 2019
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