The Piano: Shot By Shot Analysis Of The Opening Scene Essay, Research Paper
There is passion in all of us. Some of us struggle all our lives to express this vivid personal sense. Others find companions who have that mutual understanding of their shared emotions, overcoming any obsticale that seems to prevent this fusion. This is just one of the many themes discussed in Jane Campion’s The Piano. Ada, our beautifully articulate, but silent heroine is the closest to feeling this fulfillment. She, consciously or subconsciously, chooses to ignore society’s conventional way of communication and, instead, decides to speak through her piano. No one seems to understand Ada’s cry until she and her daughter Flora are reluctantly sent off by Ada’s father to live with their arranged husband/father, Stewart, the epitome of the 19th century colonial nature rapist, in the rainforests of New Zealand. Ironically, Stewart is not the man who hears Ada’s cry. It is Baines, an English born Maori cultured naturalist who aids Stewart in his negotiations with the Maori people, the local natives who own most of this region of the rainforest. Because, at the time, there was a strong emphasis on loyalty to one’s parents and Catholicism, social standards trap her rampant emotions for Baines. Ada, being the most passionate character in the text, rebells against these constricting religous standards and allows her emotions to run wildly and freely. This strong movement away from the constrictions of the Catholic religion in the 19th century is expressed very vividly in the opening scene of The Piano.
In the opening scene of The Piano, Campion gives us a very obstract image that we later learn to be of Ada covering her eyes with her fingers. This we’ll get to later. To illustrate the idea above, we must skip the first five or six shots. The seventh and longest shot is of Ada roaming about in what seems to be a storage room for porcelain pots and tapestries. She moves along about the room with a look of wonder and curiosity. It seems as though she in search of something moving her head from side to side. The camera pans to the right slowly maintaining her central position in the frame until a rather ridged and cold wooden cross enters the frame. The camera allows the cross to take the center of the frame, pushing Ada to the left of it. While this is happening, Ada’s voice discusses Stewart’s opinion on her muteness (I started the quote from the middle of the previous shot to maintian its coherence).
My husband said my muteness does not bother him. He writes – God loves stoned creatures, so why not he? We are good he has God’s patience. For silence affects everyone in the end.
As Ada finishes the last sentence, she pauses, as does the camera, and looks directly away from the cross, off into an opposite space in the room. She continues to move back into the center of the frame, she looks at the wooden cross for a split second, and her voice continues, “The strange thing is I don’t think myself silent.” The camera tilts downward to reveal Ada’s instrument of passion. “That is because of my piano.” She then sits down and allows her emotions run freely through her fingertips, creating a sweet and wild collection of melodic sounds. While Ada continues to express her euphonious passions, the camera continues to pan to the right slowly. A shadowed figure appears through the window looking out into the next hallway. The shadowed figure is followed untill its womanly counterpart appears in the door, staring at Ada. This long take ends and we get a shot of Ada who abruptly stops playing. In this frame we see Ada with a rather angered look, and a viberent redcarpert glowing from the mise-en-scene highly contrasting Ada’s gloomishly gray European garb.
Campion and Director of Photography Stuart Dryburgh packed this long shot with wonderful imagery within the frame. As Ada wanders through the storage room aimlessly, her narration discusses Christianity and God’s patience (not the far greater qualities of God). The camera stops and swaps the central positioning of Ada with the ridge cross. The image of this cross itself suggest a cold and almost ridged constricting quality. The cross symbolizes the cold and contricting qualities of religion and forshadows the obsticles that will block Ada’s wild passion in the future. As Ada continues her search, she finds what she’s looking for in the room, her piano, her ultimate symbol of passion. Ada chooses free unrestricted passion over the cold ridgelines of Catholicism. Campion gives this shot the longest duration in this serise of shots to emphasis its importance to the overall idea of the film. This next shot is of Ada angered because she was rudely interupted. This framing reiterates the idea of Ada choosing to follow her heart rather than her religion because of the abundance of red brightness. This color motif is used in the mise-en-scene when Flora is passionately exaggerating her real father and mother’s wedding and it is also used in Baines’s bedroom where Ada and Baines display their overbearing emotions toward each other. Strong emotions are attached to this color from the begining of the film, and are very prevalent throughout the film. Campion and Dryburgh exhibit wonderful talent in mise-en-scene manipulation to reinforce the importance of unrestricted passion in these two shots.
This idea of passion is so complex and multifaceted Campion could have easliy settled with it alone, but that would be too easy. The idea of human’s relationship with nature is discussed in great depth visually; it is rarely discussed literally. Campion has Ada embody many different belief syestems; she had Ada represent the idea of religous non-conformity and, now, Ada also embodies this idea “Mother Nature.” Throughout the film, references are made to Ada as a free spirit which has many Native American conotiaions. At one point, Stewart refers to Ada as a bird. After Stewart learns that Ada is being disloyal to him, Stewart traps Ada and Flora in his home, barring the windows and doors. At one point, he is so enfuriatied, he cuts one of her fingers of with an axe. He justifies this by saying “I only meant to clip your wings.” He only meant to tame her. This is the mentality of the typicaly 19th century colonial European. Because Ada embodies this natural sense and Stewart embodies this colonial sense, the literal symbolism tell the reader that the European colonialists try to control nature, rather than live with it plutonically. There are wonderfully vivid scenes where Stewart attempts to rape Ada in the midst of the rainforest, among nature and her surrondings, but unfortunately those are other scenes.
The opening scene sets up Ada as an embodiment of nature very creatively. As the opening credits fade, we are given a very abstract shot, blurred colors and no distinct images. Campion then cut s to a shot of Ada covering her eyes with her hands as if she doesn’t want to see what in front of hear. We then cut back to the abstract image again, and then we see the image that causes her to put her hands over her eyes. It’s an image of two men and a horse. One man is trying to ride the stubborn horse while the other pulls at her to make her move, as if the man is attempting to control her. Campion then cut back to Ada who is resting on a tree trunk. The camera pulls up and Ada walks out of the frame. Campion now outlines the frame with the trunk of the tree and a long thick branch extending from the top. Ada walks in the tree framed frame and the shot ends. By juxtoposing the shot of Ada with her hand over her eyes and the shot of the two men attempting to control the horse, Campion shows the viewer that Ada is distressed and uncomfortable viewing any display with this nature. But she really heightens this idea by having her majestically stroll down the tree framed frame, making her embody all that is natural in the world. Campion and Dryburgh set up Ada’s natural embodiment through juxtiposition of shots and framing with in a frame at the begining of the film in order to add double meanings to preceding scene later in the film.
Campion and Dryburgh elaborate on humans relationship with nature by advocating a harmonious balance between nature and humankind, as the Maori people practice. This main differnece is what set the Maori people apart from the Europeans. The Maori people strive to maintain a certain balance with nature, they treat her with respect, i.e. not polluting or not killing trees relentlessly, and she returns the favor; they harvest crop and are given an abundance of water. The colonial European is the complete opposite. As embodied by Stewart, scenes later in the film constantly show Stewart cutting trees down and using nature to most effectively. In the later parts of the opening scene, Campion and Drybrugh show us visuals that express this idea.
As the film continues, Ada and Flora arrive in New Zealand by boat. Throughout this entire scene, images of the rushing water dominate the frame. The Ada and Flora are carried of the little boat and the roaring ocean surronds them and their fellow travelers. In order to reemphasize humans insignificance against nature, Campion pulls the frame back further to show a giagantic rock of a mountain and this small tiny humans unpacking their luggage. The imagery emphasizes humans arrogance towards nature and makes the viewer realize their own insignificance in comparison. As the film continues, Campion and Drybrugh advocate the Maori attitude towards nature by the organization of the mise-en-scene in certain shots. As described previously, Campion shot the Europeans as insignificant beings with respect to nature. When Stewart and Baines come to pick up Ada and Flora, they bring along the Maori people to help with the baggage. As the Maori people walk along the beach, the Maoris take up exactly half the frame and the subduded ocean and the tranquil clouds take up the other half, giving both elements equal respect in the frame. By giving the Maori people and nature equal amounts of space in the frame, Campion exhibts the benifits of the Maori’s balance with nature. Because the Europeans treat nature as a subordinate, nature returns the favor.