“For by grace you are saved … not of yourselves, for it is the gift of God. Not by works, so that no man may glory. For we are His workmanship.”
— St. Paul, Letter to the Ephesians, Chapter 2
When describing AMADEUS, Salieri is frequently described as an initially pious man who turns against God because He gave Salieri the gift of the love of music while giving the gift of music itself to Mozart, an impious clown. I myself used almost those exact words a couple of years ago when describing the effect seeing AMADEUS had on me in the late-80s. While it is obviously correct as a description of the general narrative trajectory, I used one word there that is significant. “Initially.” The central event is the tossing of a crucifix on the fire, and the whole back half of the film is about an explicitly-named plot against God.
Or so I thought.
When I looked at AMADEUS again a week ago for this blogathon, I had religious questions and issues in the front of my head because I had told Bilge in vague terms that I would write something about how the character of God is presented. This caused me to look more closely at the ways in which Salieri describes his piety, and to privilege mentions of religiously-fraught details. Viewed in that light, the film turned itself upside-down from how I had previously seen it. Never before had I seen how spiritually inevitable it was and how Salieri’s undoing was the result of his own vices, which he sees as virtues. AMADEUS is not the story of a pious man cruelly treated by a Tyrant-god given to cosmic jokes (though that IS how Salieri presents it). Rather, it is the story of an impiously proud man who tries to exercise Providence as if he himself were God.
AMADEUS (Milos Forman, USA, 1984, 10)
Much as I loved THE BREAKFAST CLUB, I would have to say that if I could only pick one movie and say “THAT is the one that made me a critic,” it would be Milos Forman’s AMADEUS.
When it was released in 1984, like most teens I suspect, I wrote it off sight-unseen as another PBS edumacational-type biography about that dumbass classical music composer that your parents and teachers were always trying to get you to “appreciate.” Hard as it may be to believe, I was fairly ambivalent about school; by the standards of Top-10-in-their-graduating-class bookworms, I fairly hated school. Then when it swept the Oscars, again like most teens I suspect, I just thought — well, that’s just those old farts who didn’t even have the sense to nominate BEVERLY HILLS COP.
One Monday night at home, around 1987 or so, AMADEUS was playing on TV on one of San Antonio’s independent channels at 7 p.m. and my father wanted to watch it. I wanted to watch Monday Night Football, which started at 8 p.m. I told him more or less what I just wrote in the previous paragraph. My father, who apparently already had seen the movie, assured me that it was nothing like I thought and that if I promised to sit through the first hour, but didn’t like it, we’d switch it over to MNF.