Seymour Bernstein is an 86-year-old man, who has been playing piano since he was fifteen years old. Bernstein retired from playing publicly at the age of 50 and now lives on his own, working as a composer and piano teacher. As a source of inspiration for actor Ethan Hawke, Bernstein is asked to come out of retirement and perform a recital for Hawke’s theatre group.
Ethan Hawke directs this documentary about New York-based pianist, Seymour Bernstein. Hawke met Bernstein at a friend’s dinner party, with the two feeling a kinship with each other. Hawke appears onscreen at a number of points throughout Seymour: An Introduction and it becomes apparent that directing this documentary is Hawke’s way of coping with a midlife crisis of sorts in regards to his acting career, since Bernstein has long since abandoned the commercial aspects of his musical career and now does it solely for himself.
As stated within the title, Seymour: An Introduction works as an introduction to the life and career of Seymour Bernstein. The film features extreme close-ups of Bernstein’s face as he relates his story, ranging from his performing career to his time performing for the front-lines during the Korean War, the latter of which, results in Bernstein breaking down into tears.
Seymour Bernstein prefers to play piano for his love of the art and craft of music, rather than any commercial aspirations. This is why he retired from performing and now lives a mostly solitary life, which allows him to sort out his thoughts. The film as a whole is essentially a love letter to the art of playing piano, with many wonderful compositions performed throughout Seymour: An Introduction, including Bernstein’s recital for Ethan Hawke’s theatre group at the end of the film.
Bernstein has a spiritual connection to the music that he plays, with him saying that music and life interact in a cycle of fulfillment. Bernstein suggests on multiple occasions throughout the film that music is the universal language and that it has the power to produce ecstasy. With such a deep connection to his art, it is completely understandable why many would find Seymour Bernstein to be an inspiration.