Wladyslaw Szpilman, a famous Polish Jewish pianist working for Warsaw radio, sees his whole world collapse with the outbreak of World War II and the invasion of Poland in September 1939. After the radio station is rocked by explosions, Szpilman goes home and learns that Great Britain and France have declared war on Germany. He and his family rejoice, believing the war will end quickly.
When the Nazis' armed SS organisation occupies Warsaw after the regular army passes on, living conditions for the Jewish population gradually deteriorate as their rights are slowly eroded: first they are allowed only a limited amount of money per family, then they must wear armbands imprinted with the Star of David to identify themselves, and eventually, late in 1940, they are all forced into the squalid Warsaw Ghetto. There, they face hunger, persecution and humiliation from the SS occupants and the ever present fear of death or torture. The Nazis became increasingly sadistic and the family experiences many horrors inflicted on their neighbours.
Before long, the family, along with thousands of others, is rounded up for deportation to the extermination facility at Treblinka. As the Jews are being forced onto cattle trucks, Szpilman is saved at the last moment by one of the Jewish Ghetto Police, who happens to be a family friend. Separated from his family and loved ones, Szpilman survives, first in the Ghetto as a slave laborer for German reconstruction units and later in hiding outside, relying on the help of non-Jews who still remember him.
While living in hiding, he witnesses many horrors committed by the SS, such as widespread killing, beating, and burning. Szpilman also witnesses the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, and its aftermath as the SS forcibly enters the ghetto and kills nearly all the remaining insurgents.
Among the staff of the SS ghetto outpost, a figure (who became revealed as Josef Blösche after the war) turned into their specialist for finding remaining, hidden Jews, and who executed about 2000 for no reason and with no mercy, including pregnant women and infants. Two scenes resemble Blösche's typical actions as been witnessed by victims or his former SS comrades: In one scene, Blösche coldheartedly selects and then executes a number of captured Jews who he deems not young or fit enough for construction labour. In the other scene, his response to a young mother's inquiry about the deportation destination is simply to shoot her.
A year goes by and life in Warsaw further deteriorates. On more than one occasion, Szpilman nearly dies due to jaundice and malnutrition. The Polish resistance mounts the Warsaw Uprising against the German occupation. Warsaw is virtually levelled and depopulated as a result. After the Warsaw population escapes from the ruins, and the SS then escapes from the approaching Russian army, Szpilman is left entirely alone.
In houses not being ruined, he searches desperately for food. While trying to open a can of cucumbers, he realizes to his horror that he is being watched from behind, but then realizes that he's not been just discovered by a SS ghetto patrol, but by a Captain of the regular German army, Wilm Hosenfeld. Hosenfeld asks the initially perplexed Szpilman to play something for him on the grand piano. The decrepit Szpilman, only a shadow of the flamboyant pianist he once was, gives a performance of Chopin's Ballade in G minor for Hosenfeld. Hosenfeld is touched, and lets him continue hiding in the attic of the building. He even brings the almost starved Szpilman food regularly, thus saving his life eventually.
Another few weeks go by, and the Germans troops are forced to withdraw from Warsaw due to the advance of the Red Army troops. Only before leaving the area, Hosenfeld asks Szpilman what his name is, and, upon hearing it, remarks that it is apt for a pianist (Szpilman is a homonym for the German Spielmann, meaning "man who plays"). Hosenfeld also promises to listen for Szpilman on Polish radio. He gives Szpilman his coat and leaves. Later, that coat nearly proves fatal for Szpilman when Polish troops, liberating what remains of Warsaw, mistake him for a German officer and shoot at him. He is eventually able to convince them that he is Polish, and they stop shooting. When harshly asked, "Why the ******* coat?" the haggard Szpilman simply replies, "I'm cold."
When a nearby concentration camp is liberated, Captain Hosenfeld and other Germans are captured. Hosenfeld begs a passing Jewish prisoner, a musician, to contact Szpilman to free him. Szpilman, who has gone back to playing live on Warsaw radio, arrives at the site too late; all the prisoners have been removed along with any trace of the stockade. In the movie's final scene, Szpilman triumphantly performs Chopin's Grand Polonaise Brillante in E flat major to a large audience in Warsaw. Title cards shown just before the end credits reveal that Szpilman continued to live in Warsaw and died in 2000, but that Hosenfeld died in 1952 in a Soviet prisoner-of-war camp.
· 1 decade ago