Amadeus (1984)

Reviewer: Charity Bishop

   

I've probably walked past this a thousand times in the library merely because the cover was so uninspiring. But having read references to it in not one but two of my favorite nonfiction author's works about the result of hatred and revenge, I at last gave in and brought it home. Whatever I expected it to be, it was not a painful journey into the lengths mankind will go for revenge against God... and the eventual demise brought about by it. Speculation has long been rampant concerning the death of the great composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, but no one knows for certain if any or all of them are true... whether he merely suffered from some unknown illness or was poisoned by a fellow composer and arch-enemy, Antonio Salieri.

 

The film Amadeus (and the Tony-award-winning stage production on which it is based) never entirely gives us the answer, but takes us on an emotional, angry journey into which we feel helpless as we view Mozart through the eyes of Salieri himself, as told to a religious official in a series of flashbacks in an insane asylum. As a child, Salieri was well aware of the young Mozart, who was thought to be the most brilliant young musician in the world. His own desire for music was so strong that he pledged himself to God in body and soul if only he could be given the talent to make great music. His compositions win him the favor of the Emperor of Austria but never come as easily as those of Mozart, who composes with a flippancy. Salieri is disgusted to learn that he is a bawdy and conceited playboy with an eye for women and a taste for brandy. 

 

Insulted by the boy's treatment of his God-given talent, Salieri begins to loathe him when he is brought into the court of the Emperor to compose and perform an opera. The man is brilliant... he writes compelling, powerful music that Salieri could never hope to attain with his own humble efforts. Jealousy turns to hatred when Mozart successfully seduces one of Salieri's prized pupils (and the woman with whom he is secretly in love) into playing the lead in his opera set in a 'Turkish harem.' From that moment on Salieri vows to destroy the man Mozart and bring God, who has so wrongly cheated him by bestowing the gift of music to another, to shame. If anything, Amadeus is a compelling and yet profoundly dark paradox of the human soul which plans for revenge and reaps the benefits of hatred. For jealousy is what drives Salieri... his compositions are beautiful, but he constantly compares them in anger to those of Mozart. He pledges humility to God, and yet in his next breathe asks that he be 'much honored and remembered.'

 

The payment for this is true penance indeed, as he watches his name fade and that of another man take its place: Mozart. But then one must ask themselves, why did God honor Mozart? The man was ill-mannered, crude, and immoral... but he never pretended false modesty. In the end, both are driven mad... one by his own sinful obsession, the other with his all-consuming desire for vengeance, and later the guilt that plagues him in his insanity. We are left questioning both, blaming both, and yet feeling more pity toward each than loathing or even horror. At the point which Salieri curses God to His face, removes the crucifix from his wall and throws it into the flames, we feel a grave sense of despairing loss... we are powerless to watch all that unfolds in a beautifully horrifying array of manipulation and deceit. Did Salieri drive Mozart insane, or did Mozart drive Salieri insane?

 

The acting is sublime... Tom Hulce makes an over-the-top and yet almost likable Mozart with his ridiculous white wig and irritating laugh. Abraham won an Oscar for his role as Salieri. He particularly shines as an 'older' version of his character. The costuming is beautiful, if at times a bit immodest on the part of the leading ladies. Altogether, there is little offensive content. During the opening credits a man is seen covered in blood after a violent fit of temper; he has attempted to kill himself. Mozart engages in often crass and crude humor, contrives ways to make ladies say improper things without meaning to, and once fondles his fiance. Language is minimal; there is brief backside nudity in the asylum. The flaws in Amadeus are minimal and lie mainly in the choice of editing style. I feel that the film is too long overall (clocking in at three hours) due in part to the many opera scenes which are merely a showcase for the musical score and Italian singers. Perhaps I would have enjoyed them more if I could understand Italian; I found myself fast-forwarding through them when I'd had enough. Anyone interested in moral paradoxes should see this film at least once; it also proves a prime example of the ruin which jealousy can inflict upon our lives.


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