David’s music teacher Mr Rosen (Nicholas Bell) pleads with Mr Helfgott (Armin Mueller-Stahl) to let David take up an offer of a music scholarship in America. Mr Helfgott has no money and does not wish to use a bar mitzvah to raise the money. He is against religion, but even more afraid to lose his son. His protectiveness towards all his children is suffocating.
Much of the film’s emotional trauma comes from the Holocaust, although it’s barely mentioned. Peter Helfgott has lost his parents in a concentration camp; his wife has lost her sisters. His protectiveness becomes a kind of authoritarian phobia which plays out in all sorts of ways – his desire to keep the family together, his often repeated lectures to David about how lucky he is to have a family, his nailing up of the fence to keep the eldest daughter from seeing boys, his demonstration of physical strength and his phrases about ‘only the strong survive’.
Eventually it will lead to violence against his son and an emotional boycott, when David decides to study at the Royal College of Music in London. This scene foreshadows the father’s form of madness, linking it to the son’s eventual disintegration. That’s the key relationship in the movie, until David, as an adult, meets Gillian, who will become his wife (see clip three). In this scene, a clever visual link is created between the idea of the family confinement and a concentration camp, using the shot of barbed wire on the fence.