"The Pianist"

Nazi’s and Xerox...

A few weeks ago, we received an e-mail from a “The Indy Experience” reader from Scotland who wrote me the riot act for using the word “Nazi” in a review that I wrote where compared “Bowling for Columbine” with the Hitler propaganda film, “Triumph of the Will”. Fair or not, my review still stands, but the criticism from “Denis from Scotland” was justified. The brand ‘Nazi” shouldn’t be thrown about lightly. In my words, using the label “Nazi” isn’t like calling a photocopy a ‘Xerox’. Because someone or another group of people does something that doesn’t please you doesn’t automatically make them the worst villains the world has ever seen.

As far as I know, and I don’t mean to generalize, but the vast majority of the people who get the label “Nazi” don’t deserve it. Excluding the activities inside Serbia/Kosovo, Iraq or even the moderators of some forum’s… none have committed acts of genocide, invaded other European countries or burned books during political rallies or parades. And yet, the label “Nazi” is tossed about as if it was a harmless disruptive word in our lexicon. Even sitcoms do a whole episode on “The Soup Nazi” and it gets laughs.

Some will say that I’m being oversensitive, but the word Nazi is over used in our culture today and it’s losing it’s punch, much like vulgarities such as the F-Word, the S-Word, the C-Word, GD and taking our Lord’s name in vane. These words have lost some of their meaning because of pop culture and comedians looking for a cheap laugh.

This is what Microsoft’s Bookshelf says about the word “Nazi”

Na·zi (nät¹sê, nàt¹-) noun

plural Na·zis

1. A member of the National Socialist German Workers' Party, founded in Germany in 1919 and brought to power in 1933 under Adolph Hitler.

2. Often nazi. An adherent or advocate of policies characteristic of Nazism; a fascist.


Of, relating to, controlled by, or typical of the National Socialist German Workers' Party. 
[German, short for Nationalsozialistische deutsche Arbeiter-Partei, National Socialist German Workers' Party.]

— Na´zi·fi·ca¹tion (-se-fî-kâ¹shen) noun

— Na¹zi·fy´ (-se-fì´) verb[1]

And that’s just the soft-core version. Unfortunately it’s doesn’t accurately describe the abject horror that was the Nazi party. To over-use such a word might cause us to lose its historical context. Much like in the aforementioned sitcom about the “Soup-Nazi”, we lose sight of who they really were, we forget a Europe that was savaged by war

And the countless Jews who were slaughtered under their control.

Name-calling and to mislabel someone in this manner is the first and last act of a defeated loser who can’t succeed on merit. Name-calling of this magnitude is the concede of failure of the depraved.

It’s my wish that we never lose context of who and what the Nazi’s were and their proper place and context in history. Today, few filmmakers have taken up the task of bringing the true context of the Holocaust to theaters; Steven Spielberg in making "Schindler's List" and Roman Polanski’s personal project- the subject of this review.

One Family’s story.

Adrien Brody won the Academy Award for his portrayal as Wladyslaw Szpilman, the title character of this motion picture. Mr. Brody earned the highest honor for his sincere portrayal of Wladyslaw Szpilman who wrote his memoirs of which this movie was based. This motion picture also nominated for
CinematographyCostume DesignFilm Editing and won for Directing and also Writing (Adapted Screenplay).

The story begins the day of the Nazi invasion of Warsaw. As he’s on the radio while playing the Piano, the neighborhood is being bombed by German tanks and mortars. Not until the last minute does he leave the building, only the shell that almost pulverizes his radio studio does he leave.  He believes that soon the war will be over and they will be free. The celebration is premature, soon they are exiled into the Jewish Ghetto, then to labor camps, and finally his family members are sent to a concentration camp and then ultimately murdered.

From the moment of his first escapee, we see the years pass, as a refugee in his own city, an outlaw for just being Jewish and capture didn’t mean imprisonment but sudden death. There are few brief moments of chase that are just as intense as any blockbuster, yet more intense. Szpilman is no super hero, (although out of his entire wardrobe, his gray fedora was by far the best in the whole picture, and folks on our favorite boards should be trying to emulate it soon.)

Evil in Context

Many of the scenes will be hard to watch for any decent human being. The Nazi’s in The Pianist are not the stereotypical villains; there’s a level of cruelty to them that’s harsh and shocking. The crimes against humanity aren’t only committed by the German’s, but by a few Jews and Polish trying to appease their new masters. These villains are fellow Polish Jews wearing ghetto-police uniforms (or just the caps), fellow Jews praying on the weaker and those who knew what was wrong and did nothing. These horrible acts that are not perpetrated by non-Nazis does not diminish the evil of these monsters, but focus on how corruptible this madness was and how infectious the nazis were. The Nazis are able to demonstrate that depravity is contagious.

As bad as things get for Szpilman, the worst evil is perpetrated on the children. Kids are more they just young people, they are unbounded by their imagination and their capacity for unconditional love. No greater crime could ever be committed to an adult would ever be nearly as cruel as that same crime committed to an innocent child. Seeing the children in this motion picture get abused, neglected or starve is enough to break your heart. Parents watching this will be compelled to grab their children as I held my son, realizing of course that this may only be a movie but also a movie based on fact and an eyewitness account of what happened during the Nazi occupation of Poland.

Judge a man by his own Actions, not by the Color of his Uniform.

Not all Germans were Nazi’s, and Walter Donavon is the perfect example that not all Nazis were German. In turn there were several men who wore the Nazi uniform were not all evil- many were sympathetic to the plight of the Jews. Mr. Spielberg's Schindler's List demonstrated this also- that not everyone who worked for the Nazi’s where heartless and tried to do what they could in their own way and even jeopardized their own safety to do so.

Beyond spoiling the motion picture, Mr. Szpilman’s life hung in the balance towards the end of the story before the city was liberated by Russian troops. It was one German Officer’s kindness through the food and few articles of clothing that helped Szpilman survive.  This officer did this while keeping our hero hidden in the home the Nazis used as offices with great risk, becoming a hero in the process. As the end of the war drew to a close and Nazi defeat was inevitable, this German officer did the right thing, and perhaps as penance for the harm he had cause earlier. There are strong and powerful scenes and exchanges between Szpilman and the German officer that Illustrate the good a man can do when powered by guilt and shame and perhaps in a search for redemption.

Reflections on the past...

In watching this movie, other period films became darker films for me. The villains and their Allies seem to be more sinister then before and less cartoonish… and each one an individual. Also, there are some moments in The Pianist that are just as suspenseful as any of the three films that we hold so dear, there are moments when Szpilman’s life literally hangs by the end of his fingertips while he’s being shot at, chased or hiding in particular places. This film is also important for those who understand history’s importance in society. The Pianist paints a sharply contrasting picture of humanity and is an important movie for society, remembering that those who forget history is doomed to repeat it… this is one flick you won’t soon forget.

[1]Excerpted from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition  © 1996 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Electronic version licensed from INSO Corporation; further reproduction and distribution in accordance with the Copyright Law of the United States. All rights reserved.

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