The Great Scenes: “The Voice of God” from AMADEUS

Movie: Amadeus (1984)

Spoiler Level: None

The Setup: Amadeus is the story of the meteoric rise and sudden death of the greatest composer that ever lived, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, as told from the perspective of his now elderly and increasingly insane former rival Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham). In this scene, Salieri reminisces about the moment when he first laid eyes on one of Mozart’s compositions in its written form. Despite Mozart’s slovenly appearance and abhorrent, childish behavior the music he had written strikes Salieri as possibly being divinely inspired.

Why It’s Great: This month, I wanted to take a look at a few great scenes that I believe could serve as “Oscar clips”, moments that highlight an Oscar-winning performance and demonstrate in just a few seconds just how worthy the performance was of taking home the gold. Abraham’s turn as the hate-filled, tortured and conflicted Salieri is a performance for the ages but nowhere in the film is Salieri’s unique combination of disgust and admiration portrayed better than here. Abraham’s Salieri is a deeply religious man, having sworn an oath of celibacy to God in return for the gift of being able to compose beautiful music. While Salieri’s devotion to God has led him to only marginal success, he sees a man who clearly has no morals or scruples of any kind appears to have been chosen by God to be the composer of the most divinely inspired music ever created.

If you deconstruct the story to its basic elements, it’s really a version of the parable of the Prodigal Son, the second part of the story that people don’t usually talk about. When the irresponsible and selfish son loses all his money and returns home, he’s greeted with open arms and a banquet while his brother, who has remained loyal to the family and was responsible with his money, is given no special treatment at all and becomes enraged. In the end, Salieri is a compelling figure because his promise to God is actually proven to be an act of selfishness, a bargain which Salieri made not because it pleased God but because he believed he would benefit from it. It’s a story that could be told of athletes, businessmen or really any group of people who like to believe that their success is the result of being favored by God. In the end, when their luck changes or a bigger and better talent comes along, they are often left feeling abandoned by the very same power they once believed favored them over all others.

Amadeus is a story about the descent from feeling proud and pompous to abandoned and forsaken and the toll that fall takes on Salieri. It’s one of the darkest and most tragic performances in movie history and F. Murray Abraham cemented his cinematic legacy by knocking the role out of the park.