Director: Scott Hicks
Screenwriters: Jan Sardi

Institute History

  • 1996 Sundance Film Festival


Inspired by the life of Australian pianist David Helfgott, Shine is a soaring eulogy to the heat of musical inspiration and the crushing consequences of genius. Shine spans Helfgott’s childhood in Australia and subsequent career as a concert pianist before a severe nervous breakdown returns him to his homeland and a decade of confusion living in and out of mental institutions.

Raised by his domineering father Peter (Armin Mueller-Stahl in a remarkable performance), a Polish Jew whose strict rabbi father forbade him to play his beloved violin, David soon shows extraordinary promise as a pianist. He wins a competition and is offered a scholarship to study in America, but his father can’t bear the thought of losing his only son and forbids it. Eventually, David defies his father’s authority and, urged on by an elderly patron, leaves Australia to study at the Royal College of Music in London. There he works with the legendary professor Cecil Parkes (perfectly portrayed by Sir John Gielgud in a rare appearance). As his star rises, David finds himself unable to cope with the separation from his family and the isolation which his brilliance imposes on his increasingly fragmented life.

Director Scott Hicks has succeeded in crafting a remarkable film about the sterling resilience of love and respect in the face of spiraling madness and the endless freefall of obscurity. Geoffrey Rush turns in an inspirational performance as the adult David Helfgott, gibbering incessantly in a stream-of-consciousness monologue rich with truth. Lynn Redgrave is also very believable as the astrologer Gillian, who sees in David, with a combination of great seriousness and wry amusement, the key to his own recovery. Intriguing also is Shine’s flashback narrative style; we go with the grown-up David back to his childhood, then trace a path to his adult years, paved with the high and low, calm and fury of a piano concerto. At every level, however, we are awed and astounded by David’s virtuosity and stare with amazement as his fingers move across the keyboard.

— Christian Gaines

Screening Details

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