It so rarely happens that I watch a film and within the first 5 minutes, it captures my imagination and never lets go for the next 3 hours straight. Amadeus did just that and instantly catapulted to my personal all time top 5 movies list. This is a film with so much heart and soul, you can practically feel it in every frame and every note. For the uninformed, this is a dark film with an in depth character study of the music prodigy, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart through the eyes of rival composer, Antonio Salieri. This is one of the bravest and riskiest films ever to be committed to celluloid, not just because making a biopic of a famous artist usually ends up being too boring, but also due to the fact that the subject matter being music, there is a chance of the film just using the famous tunes as filler rather than an integral part of the movie.
However director Molis Forman and screenwriter Peter Shaffer are more than up to the job and have developed a screenplay that uses the music not as a backdrop, but as a character. Yes, the musical masterpieces of Mozart are used to portray the mood and convey so much emotion that it sometimes becomes too overwhelming. The viewer gets the feeling of eavesdropping on a very intimate moment in someone else’s memory. This is the music composed by Gods for the Gods. Are all men equal in the eyes of God? If so, why are certain people born with special talents and the rest are just mediocre. The film throws light on how mediocrity confronts superiority and how superiority doesn’t guarantee success in the traditional sense. This approach of the film is the masterstroke to make it the best biopic of all time.
The film begins with Antonio Salieri(F. Murray Abraham), sometime in the 1820’s confined to an insane asylum narrating the story of the last 10 years of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart(Tom Hulce) from 1781 to 1791 when he was in Vienna and the intimate sense of hatred he felt towards the genius, but at the same time being thoroughly awe inspired by the same genius’ music. Salieri was a mediocre composer and he knew it. But he also knew good music when he hears it and senses the same with Mozart’s tunes. He dreams of meeting the prodigy in person but is soon dejected after meeting the man and realizing that the Mozart is kind of a brat, chasing girls and giggling like a child unnecessarily. His dreams are shattered, not because Mozart is a genius, but because he feels God has cheated him by choosing the immature Amadeus Mozart as his instrument and not him. Mozart on the other hand is like a child trapped in an adult body but whose music oozes with the sense of the Divine.
The film has 3 central characters – Mozart, Salieri and the music. The lengths to which Salieri goes to destroy Mozart’s career have a Shakespearean quality and tragedy looms ever so close in every scene. Very rarely does a film focus on the process of creation of famous pieces of art. But here however that process is the core focus. What goes through the mind of a genius composer like Mozart as he writes those tunes? Clearly music is the language of the Gods. Every musical note has an emotion that it’s trying to convey. On the other hand, when mediocrity meets true genius, what is the more mature thing to do? Get inspired and improve one’s own quality of work? Or resort to jealousy and blame a higher power for one’s shortcomings? No other film has explored this fundamental aspect of human behavior with so much depth and sensitivity.
Amadeus deserves each of the 8 Oscars it received and the film stands the test of time. A 1984 film about a genius musician of the 18th century is still relevant in the 21st century. A lot of that credit should go to the 2 main leads especially Abraham who plays Selieri with so many little nuances that we empathize with him although he is a character who is despicable and cowardly. Thoroughly deserves the Oscar for Best actor over Tom Hulce. Although Hulce’s portrayal of Mozart is also spot-on, it lacks the little things that Abraham brought to the role of Selieri. But that was by design, as Mozart was more straightforward in his approach to almost everything. Mozart’s relationship with his father, his wife and Selieri are the main focus of this character and director, Forman has made a masterpiece around all these convoluted opera themed sequences with the music and acting shining like a bright star in this dark tale of a tragic genius. This is a film everyone should watch at least once in their life on Earth.