- Movie Rating -

Amadeus (1984)

| September 19, 1984

I didn’t really want to see a movie about Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.  I had an idea of what it might look like; a dusty old production with candles and powdered wigs and flowery speeches about the nature of frustrated genius.  My spirits, however, lifted when I learned that the movie was being directed by Milos Forman, the Czechoslovakian director of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Hair and Ragtime, films of an off-kilter nature which always seem to favor the oddball.

The oddball here is Amadeus himself, an irrepressibly vulgar young man with a silly laugh, a lust for ladies and a God-given genius for music which he himself doesn’t seem to take seriously.  He can spin a new composition almost without trying.  Something in the cosmic majesty gets inside his head as he walks by a tree and hears a note from a bird and by the time he gets home he has written something new just from what was in his head.  He loves the process of his work but it comes to him so naturally that he doesn’t seem to have put in the real work, the frustration, the heartbreak.

This genius is noticed by a fellow composer Anton Salieri (F. Murray Abraham) who knows that Mozart is brilliant but envies his gifts beyond all reason.  The film is set against a framing device in which the elderly Salieri confesses to a priest that he may have murdered the young Mozart.  The film then stretches back a few decades when Salieiri was younger, a competent but unremarkable musician whose work lacked passion – it was good but not great.  Mozart, on the other hand infused his work with passion and life and energy – his work was great.

The relationships surrounding Mozart pull him in different directions.  On the one hand is his stern father Leopold (Roy Dotrice) who was his son’s teacher and never gave praise or approval and whose dismissal affects Mozart’s work.  The other is his wife Constanze (Elizabeth Berridge) who is much like Mozart and acts as a jolly spirit guide to his work. 

The larger impact of Mozart’s work, like many modern rock musicians, is that they upset the establishment of an older generation.  In this case the dilatants who surround Emperor Joseph II (Jeffrey Jones) and fear that his work, particularly his composition of “The Marriage of Figaro” will incite young people into acts of hatred and misplaced passions.  But Mozart tries to explain his work with a level head, that his work comes from simply being bored by stories of supernatural gods.  Those at the Emperor’s side complain on his majesty’s behalf but you can see on the emperor’s face that he like this young man, that he is intrigued by his defense of his work.  Impressed too is Salieri, who feels that it is his own personal Hell to watch the greatness of this ridiculous young man waved around as a walking example of just how inadequate that he himself really is.

The great beauty of Amadeus is that Forman isn’t really interested in the facts.  I have no doubt that 90% of this movie is fiction, it is based on the play by Peter Shaffer but has been heightened to a much more approachable and much less broody interpretation.  The production design allows us to feel that we are in the period but the ideas expressed and the attitudes present offer the notion that this is not period accurate.  That’s not the story that Forman wants to tell.  Through the jealous Salieri, he wants to favor the ideas of the nature of how we approach another person’s work.  How can we see another’s God-given talents without wanting them for ourselves?  Could we appreciate such a talent without giving in to the temptation to envy someone who seems to get it without the frustration of the work? Those are bold questions, and I thought hard about them long after the movie was over.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1984) View IMDB Filed in: Drama