“The Legend of 1900”: What American Dream

Yichong LiYichong Li

Staff Reporter

When my father showed “The Legend of 1900” (Italian: La leggenda del pianista sull’oceano) to me for the first time, I was twelve.

The highlight of the movie to me back then was always the opening. Just into the 20th Century, the immigrant flow from Europe to America was at its peak. As an immigrant ship arrives at the Upper New York Bay, there would always be one guy who first spots the Statue of Liberty.

“AMERICA,” he would yell. The whole ship would then roar in cheers and laughter, and I burst into tears.

The movie told me that it was destiny, “Those are people who always have that precise instant stamped on their life. When they were kids you could look into their eyes, and if you looked carefully enough you’d already see her – America.”

I believed in it. Every word.

My father probably never thought that one day he would be sending me away. Nine years after seeing the movie, I now have been living my dream for two solid years. I still remember when I first stepped out of the plane in Washington D.C., people all smiled at me. “Welcome to America,” they said.

Another day, I took a trip to see the Statue of Liberty. I was full of hope. I was ready to leave behind everything I had and start anew. So much for an American Dream.

I often thought about 1900 and the legendary pianist in the movie. He was abandoned on the immigrant ship as an infant, and never left the vessel since. 1900 remained abroad during the hundreds of trips the ship made back and forth between Europe and America.

Even after the ship reached its expiration, he still refused to get off and enter the USA. The ship was eventually scuttled and sunk offshore.

It was quite impossible for me to comprehend 1900’s insistence. “He must have really loved that ship,” I thought.

In the mean time, I have grown ever more uncertain towards my own decision to have “landed” in America. On this land of liberty, I feel frightened, and lost. With the variety of possibilities presented in front of me, I am constantly in fear of not making the right decision. Each step I take into the real world only adds to my anxiety.

I went to the piano room one day – it kept my mind off things. 1900 played piano his entire life. I felt like I was starting to understand him. I remembered one scene in the movie where 1900 played in the third class cabin. People were soon influenced to sing and dance, loudly requesting one song after another. Just then, the ship docked and passengers all flooded out. 1900 sat there. He quietly looked at them.

People are always coming and going; the world is forever changing. In 1900’s unsettling life, piano was possibly the only static thing, but he came to learn that it was enough. Even if that were all he had left, he would not let it go.

I dug out the movie from my luggage and had it play on my computer. Right before raumatic end, 1900 had a monologue that ran for more than five minutes:

“It wasn’t what I saw that stopped me, Max. It was what I didn’t see… In all that sprawling city there was everything except an end. There was no end… Take a piano. The keys begin, the keys end… And on these keys the music that you can make is infinite. I like that. That I can live by. You get me up on that gangway and you’re rolling out in front of me a keyboard of millions of keys, millions and billions of keys that never end… And if that keyboard is infinite, then on that keyboard there is no music you can play… aren’t you ever just scared of breaking apart at the thought of it? The enormity of living it? … Land? Land is a ship too big for me. It’s a woman too beautiful; it’s a voyage too long, a perfume too strong. It’s a music I don’t know how to make. I could never get off this ship.”

Unlike me, 1900 watched America from the deck for forty some years, and decided that he had enough.

What American dream?