From the Vault: AMADEUS will rock you

As we’re preparing a book based on the theory, application, challenges and practice of what we do here with Cinemagogue (hoping to inspire more replication, transformation, edification and even evangelism) I tried to choose some timeless sample reviews for a chapter on praxis. This led to inclusion of my wife Kathryn’s favorite film, Amadeus.

(My only problem with this movie is that it didn’t feature the song by Falco.)

Seriously, this film is not only a great period piece and compelling drama, but one of the most revealing films about how pride, covetousness, and self-worship may be any person’s undoing, with amazing acting talent by F. Murray AbrahamTom Hulce, and Elizabeth Berridge.

“I heard the music of true forgiveness filling the theater, 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.”

The incredible story of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is told in flashback by Antonio Salieri, a man now confined to an insane asylum claiming that he murdered Mozart. A priest comes to hear his confession and a tale of unbridled jealousy unfolds, the viewer ushered into a fictionalized account of this historical character whose legacy has carried on throughout generations.

Despite a prominent position, wealth, and luxurious living that very select few enjoyed in his generation, Antonio Salieri is discontent. He sees the foolish, immoral fop named Mozart gifted with a talent far beyond his, and curses God that he will never be as talented or remembered as a man he feels is artistically his superior but far less deserving in character.

“From now on (God) we are enemies, You and I. Because You choose for Your instrument a boastful, lustful, smutty, infantile boy and give me for reward only the ability to recognize the incarnation. Because you are unjust, unfair, unkind, I will block You, I swear it. I will hinder and harm Your creature on earth as far as I am able.”

To be fair, Salieri isn’t wrong about “Wolfie”, as his wife calls him; Mozart is crude, rude, self-absorbed, pompous and acts the buffoon because he’s positive his artistic prowess lets him get away with it. He’s the pre-Iron Man Tony Stark of his era. He doesn’t “deserve” the amazing gifts he’s been given. Still, we see the unquenchable covetousness rise in his rival, who thus proves he’s no better. Salieri uses his position, deception, and the mask of friendship to frustrate and inhibit Mozart wherever he can. He even seeks to steal Mozart’s final requiem and use it at the man’s own funeral, claiming it as his own. Although destitute, sick and desperately in need of rest, Mozart is pushed to compose and create by Salieri to the point of death. However, his plans to appropriate the man’s last great work do not succeed.

“For jealousy makes a man furious, and he will not spare when he takes revenge.” – Proverbs 6:34

Salieri doesn’t want eternal life with his Creator, he wants to be “immortalized” in the minds of men. The idea that his glories will fade makes him bitter, and the notion that the works of an irresponsible, flippant fop like Amadeus will linger longer in the hearts of men burns in his chest like hellfire. He is furious and unforgiving to the creator for the hand he’s been dealt in this life under the sun.

But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. – James 3:14-16

The lament of this lesser composer hearkens back to the outcry in Ecclesiastes 6:8: “For what advantage has the wise man over the fool?” Though of course, Salieri’s rejection of God makes him just as much the fool.

We see men with gifts and talents, position and power abuse them throughout the course of scripture. King David commits murder, Solomon worships the idols of his wives, Abraham practically pimps out his wife to the Pharoah, and Noah throws a “me-party” after surviving the flood by getting plastered. We see God’s blessings often favor the foolish, the unworthy, and (like the son who DIDN’T go prodigal) sometimes we balk at what God pours out on them. Our own season of faithfulness then becomes our pride, sprouting as a root of bitterness that entangles us like a weed choking out our hearts.

There is no heart change for Salieri, and his rejection of God marks his mockish countenance up until the film’s acrimonious end. It’s a cautionary tale that says viewer: beware.

For Contemplation and Discussion:

  1. Do we find ourselves jealous of friends, celebrities, or other family members? Why?
  2. Why does God give talent and favor to the faithless, the atheist, the scoffer?
  3. What should our response be when others have more fame, fortune or glory?
  4. Given the change, what would we say to Salieri that the priest did not?

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