As a child piano prodigy, David Helfgott's musical ambitions generate friction with his overbearing father, Peter. When Helfgott travels to London on a musical scholarship, his career as a pianist blossoms. However, the pressures of his newfound fame, coupled with the echoes of his tumultuous childhood, conspire to bring Helfgott's latent schizophrenia boiling to the surface, and he spends years in and out of various mental institutions.Written by
Director Scott Hicks has said about the film's development with the casting of actor Geoffrey Rush: "Nobody wanted to make the film with Geoffrey Rush. I had the most disrespectful things said to me, 'What sort of a failure is this guy?. He's 43 years old...Forget about him' ." See more »
The character shows all signs of schizophrenia; not bipolar disorder (formerly known as "manic-depressive disorder"), as is claimed in the film. The real David Helfgott likewise displays many symptoms of schizophrenia and none of bipolar disorder. See more »
I did some reading after this driven by idle curiosity about the account. The real Helfgott didn't spend 15 years abandoned in a room with a piano, he didn't have to stand in the rain outside of a bar before they would let him in, he was pretty well known in the local scene as a pianist, his father was not a Holocaust survivor and David had been married before, father and son were never really estranged and David was present at his funeral.
But the 'objective' point-of-view that purports to explain him, or any of us at any time based on a few facts, is in the end no less hypocritical than any attempt to pass dramatization as 'the real story'. This matters. Someone can be present at a funeral without being truly present, and someone can feel forgotten and alone even when they're factually surrounded by people, estranged from a parent even when formally this was never so.
The film is at a simple emotional level where the attempt to conquer a maddening complexity (music, life) snaps the tethers of mind and in due time the reconfiguring of this damage into blossoming art. The moral is that we must keep trying and hope for the best, perhaps the worthiest lesson even if it appears slightly trite in the context of a more or less happy ending.
Still, why feel the need to invent all those things, knowing you are doing nothing short of that? When the inflicted violence on the son could be inferred by a more ambiguous tension instead of an outright beating.
Because, it seems, we can only choose to accept the lesson if at the center we find a good soul worthy of the saving. In other words, it is not the fact that he gives a great last recital that matters, but that he plays at all, not that a genius was salvaged because he might never have been that, but a human being. And this is what rankles so much Helfgott's piano critics who find him borderline incompetent in his playing - he is cheered on in concerts because he is the character from this film.
Ideally we would be able to discern all these points here instead of one harmony: the truly damaged but kind soul, the inability to place blame for that damage on any ogre father or Holocaust, and being able to somehow experience his music (the real Helfgott recorded for the film) as a trained ear would, fixated flourishes followed by distraction and incompetence according to critics, musically extending the damaged self.
For a more demanding film on the same subject of madness and transcendent musical genius see a little known film on a medieval composer called Death in Five Voices: all about the dissonance between different voices trying to harmonize a story and this carried in the music itself.
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