Monday, November 16, 2009

Movie Review: Amadeus (Part II)

This is part two of a three-part review of Milos Forman's Amadeus
Part I | Part IIPart III

iii.    Pity to Indignation and Indignation to Pity

For the first half of the film, Mozart is not the most likable character.  He rolls around on the floor with his bride-to-be, he has a piercing cackle of a laugh, he is late to conduct his own piece of music, he composes a bawdy opera.  Mozart has a concerned (if not controlling) father who he disobeys, whereas Salieri’s father mocked his musical aspirations.  Yet while the viewer cannot really bring himself to dislike Mozart, whose brilliance, enthusiasm, and childlike nature balance his faults, we feel a sense of indignation that Mozart should be grateful for his fortunes, especially the good graces of the emperor.  Similarly, we feel pity for Salieri as his labors of love are continually outshone by the rising Mozart and as the young composer disrupts every aspect of Salieri’s life: his life at the court and his relationship with the emperor, his relationship with the Vienna’s prima donna, his own pride in his music, and his relationship with his god. Gradually, though, as Salieri’s emulation morphs into envy and his friendly feeling into enmity, Mozart instead becomes the object of our pity as he becomes the object of Salieri’s vengeance, and Salieri becomes the object of our indignation for the unjust control he wields over Mozart’s life. 

iv.    Confidence to Fear

Lastly, Mozart passes from mastery of his life into complete terror.  When he arrives in Vienna, he tells the lead composers of the imperial court that their tradition of Italian opera is rubbish and shows them up with a new work of his own making.   He complains of their stupidity and calls them “musical idiots” to the emperor’s chamberlain.  Mozart has the audacity to put on an opera set in a harem and then include a ballet in his opera.  He gets married without his father’s consent.  Slowly, as the other emotions of the film gradually give way to their opposites, Mozart’s confidence too gives way to its contrary, fear.  In the middle of the night Mozart is visited by a clandestine patron who commissions a requiem mass from him.  Cloaked in the costume his late father once wore, the figure terrifies the composer, who is haunted by his father’s relentlessly controlling nature years after the man’s death.  Mozart is terrified of every knock on the door.  One time out of fear he asks his wife to answer the door, although it turns out only to be his actor-friend.

The movie’s final scene unites all of these emotional reversals and amplifies them with reversals of plot.  The first of these is the premiere of The Magic Flute, which is a smash hit, a fact that should have brought Mozart great joy since his previous operas flopped.  He is denied this pleasure because he passes out at the harpsichord during the final act and misses the curtain call.  Next Mozart is taken home, where he should be safe to recuperate with his wife.  Not only is his wife absent, but it is Salieri who has taken him home and who remains with him.  Instead of being afforded comfort, Mozart is thrust into danger.  Then, when the actors drop by Mozart’s apartment with his share of the profits, an event would have eased Mozart’s mind is turned into a tool for his destruction, for Salieri tells Mozart it was not the actors but the man who commissioned the requiem.  Salieri then pressures Mozart to complete the mass, claiming the anonymous patron promised much money if the work is finished by the following day.  Thus instead of being eased by receiving the profits of his work, he is burdened to finish a work that is torturing him. 

When Mozart begins to dictate his final work to Salieri, all of the films emotional reversals are amplified.  The emotions that have degenerated into their opposites, will now return, but in a false form.   First, there is the irony that Salieri’s enmity for Mozart should be culminated in a collaboration.  Mozart went from being Salieri’s idol, to his rival, to his enemy, to his tool, and lastly his friend. We get a brief, sad glimpse at the partnership that might have been. Only the friendship is a false one.   Emulation has passed into anger and then to envy and then at last to false-friendship.  Second, at last Salieri begins emulating Mozart, but it is not a true emulation since he is merely copying Mozart’s work verbatim, a task he is barely capable of.  Emulation has passed into enmity and then into false emulation.  Third, that Mozart’s fear, while it should be at its greatest as he falls victim to Salieri, is ebbing because he trusts the man.  Thus Mozart’s confidence gave way to fear, which has given way to a false confidence now. 

The fact that this last scene is the final stage of the emotional arcs is amplified by the contrasting fact that the scene appears to be a happy and successful resolution.  It looks like Salieri is helping Mozart, it looks like Mozart has the money he needs and will get more. . . but none of this is true.  The opposite emotions have taken over, and the false ones fade away as the composer dies.

Of course, the only emotions that are not brought back in false-form are ours, namely those of pity and indignation.  Mozart, once triumphantly and joyfully conducting, is pale and dying on his bead with the villain magnanimously standing over him.  This unjust situation is magnified when Mozart utters his last words to Salieri, “forgive me.”  This is the last reversal, Mozart uttering the words that should have come from his murderer, and Mozart’s inability to grasp not only the gravity of his situation but all of the events leading up to it make us pity him and loathe Salieri even more since it reminds us how long and how completely Salieri was sabotaging him.

Part I | Part IIPart III

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