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Shine is a semi-biographical movie about Austrian pianist David Helfgott and his life long goal to make his father proud of his amazing musical talent. Growing up both my sister and I took piano lessons and my grandfather performed regularly with his accordion. While I quit piano at age 12, my sister continued to practice and ended up going to college for music. As a result of my upbringing and love of music, I really looked forward to and enjoyed this movie.
The son of Holocaust survivors, David and his family grew up in Australia following the second world war. David’s father (played by Armin Mueller-Stahl – Jakob the Liar and Angels and Demons), remembering the many losses from the Holocaust, was overly protective of his family. The first half of the movie dealt with the tension between David’s father pushing David to become a great pianist while also isolating David from the possibilities of furthering his music education at renowned schools of music in order to keep the family together. At the age of 17 David is forced to decide between going to university to study music and making his father happy. David ultimately chooses to attend school and his father subsequently kicks David out of the family.
In a rather Hollywood-esque series of scenes, young David (played by unknown Australian teen, Alex Rafalowicz) becomes obsessed with learning his father’s favorite piece of music in an attempt to gain back his father’s love. Subsequently, the “Rach Three” (Rachmaninoff’s piano concerto no. 3) drives David to a state of mental despair. Many years pass where David (played as an adult by Geoffrey Rush – Pirates of the Caribbean series, Les Misérables, and Shakespeare in Love) lives in a mental hospital where he is not allowed to touch a piano for fear of further destroying his frail mental state. Finally in a series of happy coincidences, David is “adopted” by a lady who recalls seeing his name int he papers as a child. His is given a chance to play the piano again and ends up living and working at a local restaurant/bar.
The acting is amazing (Geoffrey Rush earned an Oscar for his performance) and the film is paced in a way that keeps you entertained but not scrambling to keep up. I personally would have liked to see more of David as an adult because Geoffrey Rush’s portrayal was so well done. None the less that movie is a great feel good story that also tells a story of one of the world’s greatest musical treasures that nearly no one knew about prior to the movie being made. It is also refreshing to see a movie script where little to no exaggeration was needed to still make a compelling story.
Other movies that portray either idiot savants or genius clouded by metal/physical boundaries: