On the surface, Milos Forman’s Amadeus appears to be a struggle between two 18th century composers, Salieri and Mozart, portrayed wonderfully by F. Murray Abraham and Tom Hulce, respectively. However, a deeper look at the movie reveals that the true struggle is between a man and God. Forman, whether intending to or not, has created a wonderful picture of man’s rebellion and questioning of his Creator. Why does God allow what He does? Why does God gift some men and not others? How can God allow the immortalization of an adulterous drunkard while letting a chaste servant disappear into the halls of unrecognized composers? These are the questions which form the tempest in Salieri’s mind. The real dilemma in the film, then, is between Abraham’s character and God; Hulce’s struggle is merely a symptom of Abraham’s struggle.
The film open with the aged Salieri trying to commit suicide while saying “Mozart…I confess…I killed you…forgive me...truly I killed you.” Upon hearing his body crash against the piano and hit the floor, Salieri’s servants force the locked door open and view the old man lying with a pool of blood around his neck and a knife in his hand.
The next scene shows a priest enter the insane asylum where Salieri has been committed. Sitting down with the aged composer, the priest insists that “all men are equal in God’s eyes.” Salieri challenges the priest’s idea, demonstrating that no one remembers his music but everyone remembers Mozarts’. This scene is pivotal to understanding the movie, for Salieri begins to tell us the history of his fascination with Mozart. “He…was…my idol.” As a kid he knew of him, and, after his father died, Salieri offered up “the proudest prayer” a boy could pray: “Lord, make me a great composer…and be celebrating myself. In return, I give my chastity; my industry; and my deepest humility.” We should note here the bargaining with God. Salieri is asking for recognition, controlled by his worldy desire for fame and fortune. Such is the desire of those Pharisees and teachers of the law whom Jesus cursed for their self-righteousness.
Fast forward many years to Salieri’s and Mozart’s first encounter. Waiting to lead an orchestra, Salieri spies on Mozart philandering with his fiancé and uttering filthy language. The response of this self-righteous man is profound: “That was Mozart! That giggling, dirty-minded creature I just seen crawling on the floor!” Later, we hear him exclaim, “But why! Why would God choose” a man like Mozart to be “His instrument.” The questioning of God’s purposes in using Mozart leads the Italian composer to end all loyalty to God. Looking at his crucifix on the wall, Salieri says, “From now we are enemies…you and I…[you leave me the ability] to only recognize the incarnation…I will block you…I will ruin your incarnation.” This scene is masterfully done by Abraham. It is one of the great scenes in all of filmdom. The writing is superb and the delivery is incredible. Later, he adds that “one day I will laugh at You. Before I leave this earth, I will laugh at You.”
The power and profoundness of this film are remarkable. I do not know Forman’s intent when he made this film; but the depiction of Salieri versus God is Jacobian in nature. He is mad at God because he was not blessed with the same gift as Mozart. Did not Jacob cry “bless me before you leave!” If you have not seen this film, I highly advise you to. It is on my top 3 of all time. Using the slogan, “The man. The music. The madness,” Amadeus probes man’s fundamental problem – his ingratitude to God – and demonstrates how that problem effects our relationships with fellow creatures.