Release Date: 19 September, 1984
Oscar Ceremony: 25 March, 1985
Director: Milos Forman
Starring: F. Murray Abraham, Tom Hulce, Elizabeth Berridge
Nominees: The Killing Fields, A Passage to India, Places in the Heart, A Soldier’s Story
“I heard the music of true forgiveness filling the theatre, conferring on all who sat there, perfect absolution. God was singing through this little man to all the world, unstoppable, making my defeat more bitter with every passing bar.” – Antonio Salieri
My first encounter with this movie was probably around 1999 during music class in elementary school. I think music teachers are very fond of it, because I’m fairly sure I saw this in my first year of high school as well. The thing is, I completed my schooling in French, so I was stuck watching the dubbed version. I’m a big believer of watching movies in their original language; if I don’t speak it, I opt for subtitles. When I first saw Amadeus, I was too young to know about cinema and I just assumed this was a weird old French movie that no one ever watched. Boy, was I wrong.
As I got older and started developing a passion for film, I started to realize that Amadeus was in fact considered a masterpiece, but I never got around to watching it. I’m so happy this project finally forced me to get reacquainted with it. Honestly, from an artistic point of view it’s practically perfect. It has a way of captivating all types of audiences by making classical music more exciting than it’s ever been. Seriously. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was a total rockstar.
Remember when I expressed my concern with biopics after watching Gandhi? Well, I’m happy to report that Amadeus is everything a biopic should be. It only touches on a part of Mozart’s life, it has a clear purpose, and it brings a new perspective to his story, one that you don’t normally get from reading about him. The story is told through the eyes of Mozart’s lesser-known “rival,” Antonio Salieri. I put rival in quotation marks because in Mozart’s opinion, no one was really a match for him (and he’s probably right). However, Salieri had developed an obsession with him, a feeling of conflicted jealousy, one that he was never fully able to come to terms with.
The movie starts in 1823 with an elderly Salieri attempting to commit suicide while begging forgiveness for having killed Mozart back in 1791. He is eventually taken to an insane asylum, where he receives a visit from a young priest seeking his confession. Through perfectly crafted flashbacks, Salieri slowly unveils his encounters and relationship with the great Mozart. He talks about his devotion to God and the sacrifices he pledged to make if he could be granted the gift of devoting the rest of his life to music. He ends up working as the court composer in Vienna, where he first meets Mozart and begins to experience a crisis of faith. While he is able to recognize this man’s pure and utter genius, he can’t help but be completely threatened by his presence. It’s a classic love/hate relationship, the kind you’d have with an annoyingly respectable nemesis. Salieri actually starts believing that Mozart’s talent might in fact be God’s way of mocking his mediocrity. It’s a haunting feeling that consumes the best of him.
Everything about this movie is so extravagantly wonderful. I don’t think I had the maturity to appreciate its greatness when I was younger. It’s dangerous to show movies like these to kids because you risk turning them away forever. Thankfully, I was able to fully recover, and I also happen to have a friend who saw it late enough in life to recognize its merit. His name is Bobby-Joe, and I’ll let him say a few words:
Amadeus has been my favourite movie ever since I originally saw it back in 2014. It had been on my IMDb watchlist for a while and I kept pushing it back to the end of the queue, replacing its position by the likes of mainstream titles such as The Hunger Games, Iron Man, The Avengers and Fast and Furious. What a mistake. I was astounded by the fact that Amadeus was never financed by a major movie studio at the time of its release, but was recognized through its Oscar nominations and wins following.
I’m the type of guy that always gets hooked by the antagonists: Moriaty in Sherlock, Riario in Da Vinci’s Demons, Hannibal in Hannibal and well, Salieri in Amadeus. Something beautiful always catches my attention in the darkness of these characters.
Speaking of darkness, Forman, the director refused to use any lighting equipment on the set of the movie. All light seen in the movie is natural light, which really fascinated me. It amazes me because the director does such a great job at shaping Salieri’s character through the use of lighting and props. Furthermore, something I noticed is that throughout the whole movie, every time Salieri is in a scene, he is either A: dressed in very dark clothes or B: the lighting of the scene is very obscure. Throughout the whole movie, we see Salieri doubting his faith and planning Amadeus’ murder. It’s a crescendo of feelings until the very end, when he finally confesses to the young priest of his sins, and lets go of his faith to finally proclaim himself the patron saint of mediocrities:
“I will speak for you, Father. I speak for all mediocrities in the world. I am their champion. I am their patron saint.”
The scene quickly transitions to him being rolled through the halls of the asylum on his wheelchair, having what seems to be his most unstable moment of the whole film, speaking softly to the patients:
“Mediocrities everywhere… I absolve you… I absolve you… I absolve you… I absolve you… I absolve you all.”
Then and only then, does he completely lose faith in his God and values, which is illuminated in this instant by his bright white clothing and powerful white light shining through every window of that hallway. What is striking about this scene is the director’s ability to use bright lights to illustrate Salieri’s darkest point in the movie. Despite Salieri’s unstable mental state, his confessions allow him to finally be at peace with himself. It’s morbid and beautiful.
So there you have it, folks. If Amadeus appeals to a guy who likes The Hunger Games, Iron Man, The Avengers, and Fast and Furious, AND who is interested in writing insightful analyses like the one above, I don’t see why it wouldn’t appeal to you. I agree with BJ; Salieri is the centerpiece of Amadeus, and I can’t think of anyone better than Milos Forman to portray his story on the big screen. Forman also directed One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which is another one of my favourites. He’s obviously amazing at tackling complex characters and making audiences empathize with them. All in all, Amadeus manages to successfully craft a narrative around one of the most complicated bromances in history and frankly, I will never listen to Mozart’s music in the same way ever again.