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Movie of the Day: Amadeus (1984)

“But they showed no corrections of any kind. Not one. He had simply written down music already finished in his head. Page after page of it as if he were just taking dictation. And music, finished as no music is ever finished. Displace one note and there would be diminishment. Displace one phrase and the structure would fall.”
What many people do not seem to understand is that the film is entirely Salieri's--it is not in any way about Mozart himself, nor is it a biography about the composer. It is about Salieri's madness and obsession with Mozart, and yet because the character of Mozart is played so unforgettably by Tom Hulce in such an unconventional performance, the viewer takes most notice of him and will think him the central figure. The film chooses to highlight the comparison of mediocrity versus genius; Mozart is obviously the better of the two composers, and Salieri can see his own mediocrity and recognize his inferiority to Mozart so well that he is driven insane. Watch the film again; while it is true much biographical information about Mozart's life is given while telling us relatively little on Salieri's, you will see that the purpose of this is only to highlight Mozart's genius, his natural and uncanny abilities that come so easily to him. We see how his life affects Salieri's directly and we see Salieri old in his wheelchair, long after Mozart has died, still being affected by it.
The movie of Salieri's life, through which Mozart played an integral part, is told in flashback mode, beginning in around the year 1822. An old and perhaps emotionally disturbed Antonio Salieri attempts suicide, and in doing so, apologizes for killing Mozart some 31 years earlier. He survives and is admitted to an insane asylum, where he tells a young priest his tale of jealousy and mediocrity.
The priest is fascinated and alternately troubled by the lengthy and emotional story. Salieri tells of growing up in Italy with a father who did not care for music; and how he rejoiced for the chance to go to Vienna after his father's untimely death. He tells of how he first had met the young Mozart, and how immature and dirty minded Mozart was. He also tells of how "The Creature" had an intimate relationship with the girl that Salieri had cared for. Most importantly, however, he confided in the priest that he had learned to hate God for giving him a deep love of music, only to deny him the talent to create truly memorable music. He thought God had given him Mozart to mock him. Salieri's heart filled with such rage, such hatred and such jealousy, that he had vowed to himself to make God an enemy and to kill the young Mozart.
One might say "Then why is it called 'Amadeus?'" as that is Mozart's middle name, and naming the film after him would certainly cause one to believe that the central figure would have the title. But why, then, "Amadeus?" Why not "Mozart" or "Wolfgang," the only names he is referred to as in the movie? Look at the connotative meaning of the name "Amadeus:" In Latin it means "Loved by God." It's so perfect, so fitting that this should be the title; Peter Schaffer could not have asked for better! Not only does Salieri throughout the entirety of the movie express his disdain for Mozart, but he keeps coming back to God: "Why does God not give me talent? Why Mozart? Why does God love him, but not me?" Indeed, Mozart is loved by God, if God's love is shown through gifts and abilities. "Amadeus" does not stand for Mozart himself, but for a major theme expressed throughout the film.
Oh, the themes, motifs, symbolism and hidden meanings! But what of the movie itself? The brilliant acting, the beautiful dresses and jackets, the unforgettable scenes? F. Murray Abraham is perfectly cast in this perfectly acted role; he grimaces and holds back hatred so perfectly, and nothing about his performance makes you think he is acting. Tom Hulce as Mozart is wonderful-most will remember his annoying laugh that bursts forth at the most inappropriate of times. The most memorable scene occurs at the end, when Mozart is on his deathbed, dictating his requiem to Salieri as Salieri struggles still to understand the brilliant notes flowing through Mozart's mind. The importance lies not in the fact that Mozart is dying (though his departure from the movie, for me, was quite traumatic) but in seeing how Salieri must have more of Mozart's work; he hates this man and yet he recognizes the brilliance of his music, a brilliance he will never posses. Some of the most enjoyable scenes depict productions of Mozart's operas; "The Abduction from the Seraglio" finale in the beginning is bright and joyous; "The Magic Flute" Queen of the Night aria scene is shown and contains of the most beautiful arias I have ever heard. Even if you don't like opera, you will be amazed at how high the soprano must sing.
The movie won eight Academy Awards in March of 1985. The only reason it did not win nine was that Tom Hulce was nominated for best actor instead of best supporting actor. He actually was in a supporting role, and in a strange twist of irony, F. Murray Abraham won the best actor statuette; citing probably the only time when Salieri beat out Mozart in anything… 10/10


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