Based on real events, the film tells the story of David Helfgott, a virtuoso Australian pianist of Polish-Jewish origin, whose career was deeply affected by mental illness and, according to the film's narrative thesis, by the toxicity of his father, Peter. Despite the tragedy, the film moves away from the cursed charm, focusing on the uplifting effect of healing through glory. "Shine" (1996) takes its audience from the depths of personal agony to the pinnacle of artistic success.
The film opens in the middle of a rainy night, with an adult David who has already tasted madness and floats lost on the streets. His almost incomprehensible rambling foreshadows the tragic path that the pianist, as the film's hero, is about to embark on. Through frequent and well-coordinated flashbacks, the film traverses different periods of David Helfgott's real life, ranging from his first piano competition where, to the surprise of the judges, he displayed remarkable mastery of Chopin at a young age, to his healing on multiple levels after marrying Gillian.
We follow David as he leaves home with a bitter feeling and arrives in London, taking lessons with the prestigious musician Cecil Parkes. We witness his prolonged exile from the stage, his admission to numerous institutions due to his deep and continuous depressions, and, above all, the role played by love and music in his recovery. This depiction of the hardships of life serves to create an overwhelming cathartic experience when we see David triumphantly relaunching his interrupted career. However, in creating its narrative universe, the film takes certain creative liberties, favoring adaptation and cinematic impact over the usual complexity of real life.
For example, the film has a clear interpretation that focuses on the negative impact on David's mental health caused by the demons of his father, which became downright cruel. Ironically portrayed by German actor Armin Mueller-Stahl, Peter was the son of a Hasidic rabbi who, due to his own tensions with his family, ended up running away from home, a fact he would later regret upon learning that his family perished in the Holocaust. However, the film privileges a total villainy of Peter's behavior, leaving no room for compassion and offering a simple reason to empathize with the hero.
The young man's breakdown is also depicted as a rupture of mythical proportions, but even this is mere fiction. Despite the plurality of opinions on the subject, the film undoubtedly manages to elevate ordinary reality into cathartic fiction, reconstructing the stories of David Helfgott in a crescendo of dramatic intensity, suspense, documentary naturalness, heightened pleasure in the recovery of the piano, an ecstasy transmitted to the viewer, like a musical piece. There are many films about famous musicians where the artist's celebrity preceded and gave birth to the film; others where unknown musicians also appear, and "Shine" (1996) is one of them.