Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

The Piano (1993)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

The Piano (1993, NZ/Australia/Fr.)

In Jane Campion's haunting drama:

  • the film's opening voice-over, when strong-willed mute pianist Scotswoman Ada McGrath (Oscar-winning Holly Hunter) thought to herself, and explained how she had not spoken a word since she was six years old. Instead, she told how she expressed herself through her piano - something she would miss during the long trip to New Zealand with her daughter Flora (Anna Paquin) in the mid-19th century for an arranged marriage as a mail-order bride: "The voice you hear is not my speaking voice, but my mind's voice. I have not spoken since I was six years old. Lord knows why, not even me. My father says it is a dark talent, and the day I take it into my head to stop breathing will be my last. Today, he married me to a man I have not yet met. Soon my daughter and I shall join him in his own country. My husband said my muteness does not bother him. He writes - and hark this! 'God loves dumb creatures, so why not he?' Were good he had God's patience, for silence affects everyone in the end. The strange thing is, I don't think myself silent, that is, because of my piano. I shall miss it on the journey"
Opening Voice-Over
  • the arrival at a New Zealand beach (the crated piano was brought there as part of her many belongings), for an arranged marriage with NZ farmer Alisdair Stewart (Sam Neill)); it was decided by Stewart, who conferred with tattooed estate-manager George Baines (Harvey Keitel), Stewart's neighbor, that the piano in the "big case" would be left behind: ("Oh, no, it can't come now...But there are too few of us here to carry it now. Too heavy!") as Ada (through sign language) and Flora verbally objected: "We can't leave the piano!")
  • the exotic image of stubborn, pale-skinned 19th century Scottish woman Ada playing her beloved piano on the beach as her daughter Fiona danced, after they had urged Baines to join them and return to the beach
Ada's and Flora's Joy At Being Reunited with Piano
  • and later, Ada's involvement in a blackmailing/bribery sexual deal (that included her own sexual awakening) during encounters with coarse native settler/overseer neighbor George Baines, who had brought the piano to his own home; the deal revolved around the return of her beloved piano exchanged for a plot of land that Alisdair wanted: "Do you know how to bargain? There's a way you could have your piano back. Do you want it back? You want it back? You see, I'd like us to make a deal. There's things I'd like to do while you play. If you let me, you can earn it back. What do you think? One visit for every key."
The Blackmail Deal: "Do you want it back?"
  • during her transgressive 'piano lessons' to buy the piano back (key by key) from Baines, each key was exchanged for a sexual favor (beginning innocently with lifting her skirt, to exposing her arms, or touching her skin through a stocking hole); in the most sexually-charged scenes and erotic, intimate scenes of piano lessons (and bargained love-making), Baines stripped naked by his bed and exchanged 10 piano keys for lying together without clothes on; eventually, this led to having intercourse; when a regretful Baines finally realized that his sexual arrangement had made her a whore, he returned the piano
  • the scene of Alisdair's rage when he secretly spied on the twosome and learned that Ada had sent George Baines a love note engraved and burnt onto a single piano key (delivered to him by Flora); in the mud and rain outdoors as he wildly wielded an axe, he hacked off her index finger to prevent her from playing the piano; blood splattered onto the front of Flora who looked on in horror at the brutality; he then instructed Flora to deliver the severed finger to Baines as a warning: "You give this to Baines. Tell him if he ever tries to see her again, I'll take off another and another and another"
  • and the climactic departure scene, after Stewart agreed to end his marriage to Ada, her piano plunged into the sea; the drowning Ada - her leg ensnared by the piano's rope, decided against suicide (while envisioning her own death) and chose to live (although she possibly expired and her rebirth was only a fantasy); she decided to kick off her boot and swim back to the surface, and was hauled onto the boat by natives: "What a death! What a chance! What a surprise! My will has chosen life!? Still, it has had me spooked and many others besides!...At night, I think of my piano in its ocean grave, and sometimes of myself floating above it. Down there, everything is so still and silent that it lulls me to sleep. It is a weird lullaby and so it is -- it is mine. (As the camera continued to pull back, Ada was seen dead, still tied to the piano.) There is a silence where hath been no sound. There is a silence where no sound may be. In the cold grave under the deep deep sea." (Thomas Hood quote)
Ada's Drowning - Death

Arrival on the NZ Beach With a Wooden Crate (Ada's Piano)

Alisdair Stewart with George Baines

Flora: "We can't leave the piano"

The Bargain: Sexual Favors

Stewart's Anger After Learning of Ada's Betrayal

Ada's Dismemberment

Blood Splatterd onto Flora Who Looked On


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