Sunday, April 30, 2006


Because of its 18th century setting, Milos Forman’s Amadeus (1984) initially appears to be an atypical 80s film. Look more closely, however, and you’ll realize that its appearance can be deceiving. Illustrated by the contrast between Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham) and his contemporary, Wofgang Amadeus Mozart (Tom Hulce), Amadeus abounds with the popular 80s theme of nonconformity.

Initially a pious Catholic, Salieri begged God to help him be a musician in exchange for a life of chastity and frugality. A conformer, Salieri’s music is unremarkable but acceptable to his patron, the Habsburg emperor Joseph II. Nevertheless, Salieri bitterly recognizes the mediocrity of his own compositions. The talent he spent many years struggling to acquire comes naturally, effortlessly, and in far superior measure to Mozart. Ironically, Mozart’s middle name, “Amadeus,” means “one who loves God” or “loved by God.” Unable to accept that God would grace such an arrogant boor with musical genius, Salieri rejects his faith and vows to ruin Mozart.

The brilliant Mozart, for his part, only conforms enough to make ends meet. He wears outrageous clothing (such as a wild pink wig), lives beyond his means, and both drinks and parties excessively. Even though he needs the money, he refuses to take on students because he says that would be boring and a waste of his talents. He deigns to permit noblemen, churchmen, or wealthy men to be his patrons but composes what he wants, not necessarily what they want. Combined with his uncouth behavior, the “distasteful” content of Mozart’s operas is enough to seriously offend these patrons. As Mozart says, “Forgive me, Majesty. I am a vulgar man! But I assure you, my music is not.”

I won’t spoil the film’s ending for you by describing how Mozart meets his early death and what happens to Salieri afterwards. There is a certain amount of ironic and poetic justice in it, but if you want to find out why, go watch Amadeus yourself!

For more information, see:

Academy Awards and Nominations

  • Won: Best Actor in a Leading Role (F. Murray Abraham); Best Art Direction-Set Direction; Best Costume Design; Best Director; Best Makeup; Best Picture; Best Sound; Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium
  • Nominated: Best Actor in a Leading Role (Tom Hulce); Best Cinematography; Best Film Editing


  • Jeffrey Jones (Principal Rooney in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) plays Emperor Joseph II

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