Magazine article Tikkun

The Holocaust Luster on "Shine"

Magazine article Tikkun

The Holocaust Luster on "Shine"

Article excerpt

The magic of movies has the power not only to invade dreams, but also to recreate nightmare and offer a glimpse at madness.

The extraordinary achievement that is Shine, director Scott Hicks' tribute to the restored life and art of the Australian pianist, David Helfgott, embraces art and genius, madness and atrocity, but does so in such an intentionally ambiguous way that it ultimately obscures what is a central source of the film's dramatic conflict.

By now, with all the Golden Globe and Oscar gloss that has surrounded this film, at least the cinematic life of Mr. Helfgott is well-known. A child prodigy, he became the instrument through which his domineering father, Peter, realized his own unfulfilled musical ambitions. Obsessively driven to achievement, David is all the while reminded of the violin-smashing grandfather who, because the Holocaust had claimed most of the Helfgott family, he would never know. As a response to these losses, his life is deemed too precious to share with others, making the fragile child a virtual prisoner in his own home.

Retreating from the trauma of being his father's son, David loses himself in his music. Finally, years later, he escapes to study in London. There, during a school competition, he successfully conquers the music of Peter's deepest passion: the Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 3 ("the Rach 3"), which former teachers had warned as being a trap door to madness.

David triumphs in the competition, but in the process also suffers a mental breakdown that separates him from his mind and his music. While the film ultimately ends on a lifeaffirming high note, the heart of the story lies in the damage that was done, and more importantly, how it was done.

But the answer is not offered willingly in Shine. Mr. Hicks obviously has deep respect for his audiences; perhaps too much. The film treats the complexity behind Peter and David's actions - and the mental collapse itself - like a celluloid puzzle of illmatched pieces. Is it a family history of child abuse? How about the Rach 3? Perhaps the Holocaust had something to do with it? Mr. Hicks gives us tantalizing messages to ponder in the dark, but that doesn't guarantee that as audiences we'll know what they mean.

Mr. Hicks may have chosen not to "shine" the light too blindingly in this direction (and for this reason most people will miss it), but this film is very much about the Holocaust - a generation removed from the chimneys, but still responsible for the damage to both father and son. Yet the Holocaust images in Shine are elusively presented, as though a plot device in disguise, a walk-on role intended more to confuse than explain.

Unfortunately, there is a danger in not knowing the significance of the Holocaust in Shine. Without a meaningful appreciation of the demons that drove Peter, Shine reduces him to the Jewish equivalent of The Great Santini. Child abuse becomes the focus of the film rather than the horror that lurks underneath it. Yes, Peter wants to keep the family together, fencing them in even if it sabotages his own dreams for David. But as Eva Fogelman, a psychologist who works with survivors and their children, says, "For Holocaust survivors, separation means death. There is no expectation for a reunion." The intensity of Peter's reaction to the possible loss of yet more family is the calling card of every survivor of the Holocaust.

Similarly, this film is not merely about a passionate artist's response to repression, or how music can be more siren than scream. …

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