Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Amadeus (1984)

     If you know me at all, you know I’ve been playing the cello for about nine years. You may also know I’ve been playing piano (sort of) for about seven. I have a huge passion for music as well as movies. And aside from “Fiddler On the Roof”, another film that inspired me to become a filmmaker with its balance of film technique and music was “Amadeus”. And if you haven’t seen or heard of this movie, it is indeed based (partially) on the life of composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

     Tom Hulce plays Mozart as an extremely talented but extremely immature young man engaged to a beautiful woman named Constanze (Elizabeth Berridge). The first time we meet Mozart, we don’t hear his name, but he is flirting with her (using foul language) at a party. But he hears music outside the room he is in, and he realizes that his music has started without him. When the audience realizes that this is Mozart, it’s hard to believe—especially for Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham), the other main character in the film. “Amadeus” is told exclusively from Salieri’s point of view. The film opens with an older Salieri attempting suicide and then being rushed to an asylum, where he talks to a priest through the night about his life and his envy of Mozart. He tells the priest that as a boy, he prayed to God, asking:

SALIERI: Lord, make me a great composer. Let me celebrate Your glory through music—and be celebrated myself. Make me famous through the world, dear God. Make me immortal. After I die, let people speak my name forever with love for what I wrote.

     Later on in life, however, he catches Mozart flirting with Constanze dirtily, and he cannot believe that such a vile, lustful man could compose such beautiful music that he heard at that party. After that event, Salieri’s envy begins to grow and grow. When Emperor Joseph II (Jeffrey Jones) invites Mozart to visit, Salieri composes a march in his honor, which Mozart starts tweaking and changing, somewhat disrespectfully. Mozart is commissioned to write an opera and writes “Abduction from the Seraglio”, set in a brothel and starring one of Salieri’s pupils, Katerina Cavalieri, whom Salieri was in love with. When he finds out that Cavalieri fell for Mozart, he is extremely distressed.

SALIERI: What was God up to? …All I wanted was to sing to God. He gave me that longing—and then made me mute! Why? Tell me that. If He didn't want me to praise him with music, why implant the desire? Like a lust in my body! And then deny me the talent?

     Salieri’s envy for Mozart rages on, and he uses his power as the Emperor’s court composer to see that Mozart’s operas are withdrawn quickly after they are released. Mozart, meanwhile, is struggling as well. His drinking habits start driving him to bankruptcy, and his compositions are bringing in little pay. When his father dies, Mozart is as distraught as ever. But Salieri, in his anger, uses death to haunt Mozart: in disguise, Salieri goes to Mozart and pays him to write a requiem mass for an unnamed dead man. The older Salieri tells the priest his plan: get Mozart to write a requiem mass, then kill Mozart, and have the mass play at his funeral—pretending that it was Salieri who wrote it!

     However, Salieri’s plan doesn’t work so well because of drunk and dying Mozart: one night, Mozart faints while playing piano at his final opera, and Salieri, posing at the true friend to Mozart that he is, takes him back to Mozart’s home. Eventually, they both sit down to finish the requiem. (Yes, this probably didn’t happen, but it’s a pretty cool scene.) Dying Mozart dictates the music to Salieri who writes it down, but the next morning, before Constanze can throw Salieri out of the house, Mozart is dead. And because the family was so poor, Mozart doesn’t even get his own grave—his body is thrown into a pit with others who were too poor to afford a funeral. So ends the life of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and so begins the downfall of Antonio Salieri into obscurity and, in his own words, “mediocrity”.

     The name “Amadeus” can be translated to “lover of God”, “for the love of God”, or, according to the filmmakers, “beloved of God”. What a symbolic title: Salieri believed that God was rejected Salieri’s musical talent and using Mozart as his instrument instead. Because of this, Salieri began a downward spiral into jealousy, envy, and hatred for Mozart—and even a hatred for God. In a heartbreaking scene, Salieri places his crucifix on his wall (which he has looked to several times for inspiration while composing) into his fireplace to burn. Salieri has let envy get the better of him.

     God makes it clear throughout the Bible that envy is wrong. Even in Exodus 20, He tells the Israelites as one of the Ten Commandments, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house” (20:17). Jesus condemns envy in Mark 7, teaching, “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.” (7:20-22) Being jealous of another person, his belongings, or his talents is wrong—and it is even twisted in Salieri’s case, because he is jealous that God would use someone else to serve Him rather than Salieri himself!

     But another spiritual element to this film that I noticed is the fact that God uses Mozart, who is (at least, portrayed in the film as) a lustful, immature drunkard, to make beautiful music that the world remembers. God can use anyone to serve Him despite his or her faults. One of my favorite verses is Ephesians 2:10, which says, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” This is the New International Version of the Bible (the version I normally use for this blog), but I do know that other versions of this verse don’t say “handiwork”—they say “masterpiece”. What a thought! Even in my sins and imperfections, I am God’s masterpiece, and He can use me to praise Him no matter what.

     My prayer for you, the reader, is that you will reject the idea of envying another person’s gifts and ask God to use you to serve others however He wants—no matter the cost.


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