The Pianist charts the extraordinary but true story of Poland’s most promising young pianist, Wladyslaw Szpilman, the only member of his family to survive the Nazi occupation. During the early stages of the Nazi occupation, as a respected artist, he still imagines himself above the danger, using his pull to obtain employment papers for his father and landing a supposedly safe job playing piano in a restaurant. But as the German grip tightens upon Poland, Wladyslaw and his family are selected for deportation to a Nazi concentration camp. Refusing to face a certain death, Wladyslaw goes into hiding in a comfortable apartment provided by a friend. However, when his benefactor goes missing, Wladyslaw is left to fend for himself and he spends the next several years dashing from one abandoned home to another, desperate to avoid capture by German occupation troops.
Wladyslaw Szpilman started playing for Polish Radio in 1935 as their house pianist. When the Germans bombed the radio building in Warsaw in 1939, Szpilman was in the middle of Chopin’s Nocturne in C-sharp minor. This was the last live music broadcast that was heard until the war’s end.
Szpilman’s family was prosperous and seemingly secure, and his immediate reaction was, “I’m not going anywhere.” His family takes heart from reports that England and France have declared war; surely the Nazis will soon be defeated, and life will return to normal.
The film slowly but convincingly presents the creeping dispossession of the Jewish people in Europe. Szpilman and his family are first annoyed by the new laws imposed upon them because of their religious beliefs. While the Szpilman family cheers the news of Great Britain’s involvement in the conflict with the German government, they spend time debating where to hide their family and heirlooms. Hiding the family jewels becomes a moot point within a few months as the family is interned into a Polish concentration camp.
The lonesome journey of Szpilman reflects how he shows honour and bravery, mixed with a slight sprinkling of luck to avoid his expected ‘extermination’. He survives the animalistic treatment of the Jews, but to what end?
As he scrounges for food in an abandoned house near the end of the movie, he is discovered by a German officer. Under most circumstances that would have meant certain death. The officer would simply have turned him in, and Szpilman quickly would have been on his way to one of the concentration camps. Fortunately for Szpilman, the officer asks him what he does. Szpilman replies that he is a pianist. There is a piano in the house, and the officer asks Szpilman to play some music for him.