Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Movie Bible Study: Amadeus

Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. Philippians 4:11

About a year ago, I was chatting about the idea of shooting a short horror film with my Slovenian neighbors. We came together to collectively brainstorm the question; what scares people? I posed the question in a more personal context, "What are Slovenians fearful of?" Without blinking, without hesitation, the response came. "Ljubosumje." Jealousy.

It is wise to be afraid of an infiltration of jealousy. It pollutes, and it does so horribly and immeasurably.

Galatians chapter 5 is known for containing what is commonly referred to as 'The Fruit of the Spirit', those qualities which the soul made alive by Christ executes. Right before that moment in Paul's letter to the churches of Galatia, he writes, But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these of which I forewarn you... And here's the rub! ...just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. Galatians 5:16-21

What does Paul mean? Do these specific sins overbear God's mercy? No. No they do not. But they are treacherous sins, for they lead to paths of misery. One is not simply jealous. One becomes consumed with jealousy. It seethes through the individual. One becomes indwelt with its abundance. Then, I ask you, where can the Spirit be, if your heart is already filled with this foreign filth? Jealousy fills us. To the brim. There is no room for God's Spirit where jealousy claims a home.

The letter written by James doesn't make jealousy sound cozy either: But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. James 3:14-16

Remember the first murderer. Remember Cain. What drove him to kill his brother? Jealousy. Even before he committed the deed, God warned him, saying, Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it. Genesis 4:6-7 Jealousy is an old villain. Perhaps the oldest...

Was it not a sting of jealousy that led Satan to commit his will to opposition? He desired to be himself God. He thought himself more worthy than God himself. This is his great undoing.

Hate jealousy! You must. We cannot let it crouch in. We must overcome it. We must rule over that evil.

Remember also that it was through jealousy that Joseph's brothers sought to kill him.

Jealousy is not a dormant sin. It leads to action. Awful action. And the soul reaps its reward.

An explicitly pungent odor of jealousy is on display through the lens of Antonio Salieri, our dreadful protagonist of Amadeus. As he recalls his story through the movie, we are given a valuable insight into the destructive cause and pathway of jealousy.

*Note: Amadeus is much more complex and thrilling than being a mere symposium for discussions on jealousy. In using this film, I am simplifying the film's complex movements and narrative, so that I can better explore jealousy in action.

Let us proceed.

Salieri was a pious man. He prayed prayers to God. He stayed clear of lusts of the flesh. He did what he could to steer towards his own goal. He wanted, above all else, to make glorious music that would in return cause his name to be heard forever. Even here, before there was a creature to envy, Salieri's intentions are slightly warped. To live for gain is foolishness. We must live for Christ alone. In this way we can overcome the attacks of sinful thoughts and ways.

But why! Why would God chose an obscene child to be his instrument? It was not to be believed. This piece had to be an accident; it had to be. It better be.

Mozart comes to town. When at first Salieri sees the man, he is dismayed. Mozart is a fiend of a man -- and yet, his music is divine. Salieri cannot believe it. Jealousy begins in him from this moment.

All I ever wanted was to sing to God. He gave me that longing, and then made me mute. Why? Tell me that. If He didn't want me to praise Him with music, why implant the desire? Like a lust in my body, and then deny me the talent!

Now comes the rationalizing. Salieri convinces himself that he is more worthy of good things than Mozart. What is meant as a gift from God (Mozart's ability to harvest marvelous melodies) is viewed as a form of injustice in the mind of Salieri.

At that moment I knew. He'd had her. The creature had had my darling girl. It was incomprehensible. What was God up to? Was it possible I was being tested? Was God expecting me to offer forgiveness in the face of every offense, no matter how painful? It's very possible. But why him? Why choose Mozart to teach me lessons in humility? My heart was filling up with such hatred for that little man. For the first time in my life I began to know really violent thoughts. Everyday, sometimes for hours I would pray, 'Lord, please, send him away. Back to Salzburg. For his sake, as well as mine.'

The storm in his mind is coming. The envy/jealousy has taken a stern root within Salieri's heart. It won't go silently. Already it is leading him to think pernicious and destructive thoughts. These thoughts will not stay as mere inventions of the mind. They will seek out action.

There is no God of mercy, Father, just a God of torture.

Why how can Salieri say this? How can he come to such a conclusion. Mozart's musical ability is profound, and yet he is a smutty little figure of a character. So what? What does that have to do with Salieri? We as human creatures are prone to compare. And so in comparing, Salieri damns God, because God chooses to give what He desires to Mozart. Remember Jesus' parable of the workers who got paid equal wages. Many workers worked all day, some worked part of the day, and a few worked only an hour, yet they all are paid the same. The workers become furious; When they received it, they grumbled at the landowner, saying, "These last men have worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the scorching heat of the day." But he answered and said to one of them, "Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what is yours and go, but I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?" Matthew 20:11-14

I prayed as I had never prayed before. 'Dear God, enter me now. Fill me with one piece of true music. One piece with Your breath in it, so I know that You love me. Show me one sign of Your favor, and I will show mine to Mozart. I will get him the royal position. Enter me, please. Please.

How can God enter Him? There is no room in Salieri's soul. Salieri makes the grave error of praying not for healing, not for the removal of his jealousy, not for grace --- rather, he prays for the destruction of one of God's good gifts to the world.

From now on, we are enemies, You and I. Because You choose for Your instrument a boastful, lustful, smutty, infantile boy, and give me for reward only the ability to recognize the incarnation. Because You are unjust, unfair, unkind, I will block you. I swear it. I will hinder and harm Your creature on earth as far as I am able. 

Through the wretched game of comparison, Salieri has made a firmament for himself. He has made a pact, so that he can move forward without intentional hypocrisy. He wants his own way, and the only way to get that is by deciding that God is unjust. An unjust God does not deserve service, but rather, an adversary. Salieri's jealous thoughts have manifested into jealous conclusions. A pact built on envy. So be it. What follows is inevitable from here on out.

Go on. Mock me. Laugh! That was not Mozart laughing, Father, that was God. That was God laughing at me through that, though that obscene giggle. Go on senor, laugh, laugh. Show my mediocrity for all to see. One day I will laugh at you. Before I leave this earth, I will laugh at you.

Salieri, after coming forward against God and Mozart, keeps losing battles. At a party, Mozart mocks Salieri's music. It is true, Salieri is no Mozart. He is not a worthy adversary. He never had a chance. Neither did Satan. Yet, the inequality does not bring Salieri to a place of humility. Rather, his pride is bloated. He begins to connive to erect a plot to undermine Mozart's beauty. He must twist God's gift. Salieri will take something marvelous, and seduce it to something that honors only Salieri. 

I heard the music of true forgiveness filling the theater, conferring on all who sat there perfect absolution. God was singing through this little man. To all the world. Unstoppable. Making my defeat more bitter with every passing bar.

In this remarkable scene, Salieri is privileged to hear Mozart's Marriage of Figaro. He hears the immeasurable beauty of forgiveness, and tastes it as poison. That which is good is now rotten. The world over is ruined for Salieri. He can only take pleasure in dark things now.

And now; the madness began in me. The madness of a man splitting in half... I began to see a way, a terrible way, I could finally pry up over God. 

It never ends. There will be no happiness. There may be victory, but there will be no pleasure in it.

Imagine it. The Cathedral, all vienna sitting there. His coffin, Mozart's little coffin in the middle. And then, in that silence; music. A divine music bursts out over them all; a great mass of death, "Requiem Mass for Wolfgang Mozart, composed by his devouted friend Antonio Salieri. Oh, what sublimity! What Depth! What passion in the music! Salieri has been touched by God at last. And God forced to listen! Powerless to stop it! I for once, in the end, laughing at Him!

Remember: Friend, I am doing you no wrong...

Even after the grumbling and envy, the landowner still called the worker 'Friend'. Turn back Salieri. Why do you seek to crucify that which is good? Take what you have and go! Please.  

The jealous pact of Salieri's heart has now moved into action.

Mozart's last words. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart says to Antonio Salieri on his deathbed: Forgive me.

Remember: And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it. The text goes on, Cain told Abel his brother. And it came about when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him. Genesis 4:7-8 Cain talked to Abel before he killed him. I wonder, what exactly did he say? For Salieri and Mozart, our wicked protagonist takes a seducing role. He plays the part of best friend. As Mozart is dying, he accompanies the lad, pretending to care for his soul, even though it is Salieri who has in fact murdered Wolfgang. Mozart is played the fool. For Salieri, this final bout is another method of obtaining power and 'justice'. Sin perverts all things, and in this case, Salieri's jealous mind has contorted justice to mean something awful -- to mean the martyrdom of a great artist for the fury of a weaker mind. 

Your merciful God, He destroyed His own beloved rather than let a mediocrity share in the smallest part of His glory. He killed Mozart, and kept me alive to torture! Thirty-two years of torture! Thirty-two years of slowly watching myself become extinct. My music growing fainter; all the time fainter, until no one plays it at all. But his! 

Salieri won. He defeated Mozart. Mozart died broke, unappreciated, and buried in an mass grave. Even in victory, Salieri has found failure. There is no end to jealousy. It goes on and on.

I will speak for you, Father. I speak for all mediocrities in the world. I am their champion. I am their patron saint. Mediocrity is everywhere. I absolve you. I absolve you. I absolve. I absolve you. I absolve you all.

The heartcrushing end of the film brings us a man who now eagerly spreads the gospel of jealousy. Is it not sickening?

Remember: ...just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. In conclusion, let us allow Paul to finish his thought; But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Galatians 5:21-24

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