On the poetry of purgatory

One of the best movies I’ve seen is The Pianist, directed by Roman Polanski. It reminds me of some other movies I’ve seen, like Moonlight and Parasite. The difference is that these brilliant films conclude with more-or-less utter hopelessness, while The Pianist ends with the ambiguous hope of music. Other films also do this, to an extent. Rashomon concludes with the hope of new life. Pig concludes with the hope of afterlife, and reuniting with those we have lost. Life and death, in a world filled with the living death of abuse and manipulation, seem much more hopeful than music. In The Talented Mr. Ripley, fear of enslavement drives a cycle of tyrannical moves towards false emancipation, coupled occasionally with the delicacies of jazz music. Whiplash and Black Swan even suggest music is abuse, or is inextricably entangled with it.

The Pianist; or, hope.

The Pianist suggests music is much more valuable in itself, and much more ambiguous. Music is neither heaven nor hell. It is purgatory. As Kant suggested in the third Critique, art mediates between what is and what ought to be. But a bridge crossed one way can be crossed in either direction. And if the bridge is burned, it can be built again. So can music. The Pianist, in showing the hopelessness of words and the world, reveals hope in the sounds we sing. The protagonist lives not by hope, or despair, but through the transcendent power of music, anchored in the immanent vitality of life. That is reason enough to hope, in a hopeless age.


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