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  • Writer's pictureJames Rutherford

'Shine': A Profoundly Stirring Depiction of Australian Concert Pianist David Helfgott

Movie poster for the Australian film Shine

"Shine" (1996) is a profoundly stirring depiction of David Helfgott (Geoffrey Rush), an Australian concert pianist beset by profound mental illness. Beginning with David as a child in suburban Adelaide, South Australia, the storyline charts his tumultuous adolescence and eventual matriculation to The Royal College of Music in London.

Raised under the stern hand of his domineering father Peter (Armin Mueller-Stahl), young David (Alex Rafalowicz) excels as a piano virtuoso while triumphing in local competitions. His success begets a prized invitation to study in The United States, yet Peter forbids David from leaving the family home. Desperate for control over his prodigious son, Peter lashes out physically and mentally—his abuse sowing the seeds of early trauma. Ultimately teenage David (Noah Taylor) befriends local author Susannah Prichard (Googie Withers), who convinces him to disregard his father and pursue formal education in London. Once in London, however, the increasingly erratic David bristles at the enormous pressure he inflicts upon himself—culminating in a catastrophic mental breakdown while performing on stage.

Co-written and directed by Australian filmmaker Scott Hicks ("Snow Falling on Cedars", "Hearts in Atlantis"), 'Shine' is an electrifying depiction of brilliance and imbalance. Hicks brings Helfgott's life to full cinematic fruition, illustrating the onset of his schizoaffective disorder with stunning acuity. Rush is a true revelation in his Academy Award-winning performance as adult David, conveying Helfgott's restlessness and fervor with remarkable proficiency. Exceptionally well-crafted and emotionally commanding, it's an indelible depiction of one man's extraordinary life and unprecedented rejuvenation.


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