Parenthood is the trickiest of crafts. Every hope that one’s children will grow up to be their own true selves is shadowed by the urge to yell, ”Be just like me!” The potter’s clay has a personality: Lay the hands on gently and the resulting vase could turn out to have a strong and unexpected shape. Throw it too hard, and it warps and fractures.
In Shine, the vase shatters, with the adult David Helfgott (Oscar-winner Geoffrey Rush) speaking in stream-of-consciousness natterings that sound like the shards of his former sanity. The acclaimed, controversial — and, yes, overhyped — Australian film details with awful precision the steps through which Helfgott’s father (Armin Mueller-Stahl, also nominated for an Oscar) bullied his child into a career as a classical pianist and destroyed him as a human being. If nothing else, Shine is required viewing for stage parents — and if they still don’t get the hint, rent them Fear Strikes Out, Gypsy, or Frances, all true stories that show the deleterious effects of forcing kids to live out their parents’ dreams.
Shine, in fact, is unusual in that it doesn’t let David finally tell off his father in no uncertain terms; as true as that may be to real life, the audience can’t help but feel cheated (simply put, the villain gets away).
In Shine, Helfgott Senior’s cruelty is vaguely ascribed to his wartime experiences, as if surviving the Nazis has turned him into one. Still, he’s as much a monster as Godzilla, a control freak who tolerates no deviation — no display of self — from his increasingly wobbly son (played as a child by Alex Rafalowicz and as a teenager by Noah Taylor, who should have had an Oscar nomination of his own). Despite Shine‘s sentimental second half, in which the adult Helfgott clambers back onto the concert stage with the love of a remarkably patient woman (Lynn Redgrave), it’s the earlier scenes that stick. They distill, without apology or resolution, a particular and common tragedy: that of the child who can only find expression through art and the parent who can only find expression through the child. B