AMADEUS (1984)

Many people of my generation will remember being dragged to Amadeus years ago by their eager-to-culture parents. Nonetheless, Milos Forman's powerful film version of Peter Shaffer's play deserves your more mature appreciation.

Since childhood, pious Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham) has prayed for the fulfillment of one meager wish: "Let me celebrate God's glory through music, and be celebrating myself!" After apparently attaining his dream -- securing a respectable position as court composer to bumbling Emperor Joseph II of Austria (a scene-stealing Jeffrey Jones) -- Salieri meets his longtime idol and contemporary, the prodigy Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Tom Hulce). As Salieri puts it, that meeting "changed my life." For Mozart is not only a "lustful, boastful creature" undeserving of God's glory, he is also an undeniably better composer than any who has ever lived, creating divine music "as if he were merely taking dictation!"

As Salieri's love-hate relationship with Mozart becomes a vengeful one-man assault on God, Forman juxtaposes Abraham's tremendous expressiveness with Mozart's exceptionally stirring canon, creating powerful cinema that is nothing short of transcendent. We grow to hate Salieri, yet we understand his envy and feel pity for (or, dare I say it, empathize with) him. He is the patron saint of mediocrity, longing to bask in the musical magnificence he alone seems to appreciate but cannot himself create.

Amadeus is a soul-stirring masterpiece, a beautiful and terrifying film that plumbs musical heights and psychological depths until it reaches climax with Mozart's Requiem. Whether you adore or despise classical music, plug the DVD or VCR player into the stereo and watch Amadeus - it just might change your life.

[First appeared in Harvard Independent, 1997.]

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