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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Amadeus is a 1984 movie based on a play. The film includes an attempted suicide, disturbing images of mentally ill men kept chained and naked in a sanitarium, and some sexual hanky-panky, but there's little else of concern for teenage viewers. Mozart has his wife-to-be translate when he says backward phrases such as "eat my s--t" and "kiss my ass." Words like "damn," "hell," and "s--twit" also are used. Mozart is frequently shown to be drunk, working or running around town with a bottle of wine close at hand. Parents also should know that there's no real evidence to back up this movie's plot.
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What's the story?
At the start of AMADEUS, the aged Salieri (F. Murray Abraham) has just attempted suicide in an asylum and wants to confess his mortal sins to a tremulous young priest. Three decades previously, Salieri held an exalted position as the state composer in the Austrian Imperial palace of the 1700s. Into the royal court comes a potential rival in the form of music prodigy Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Tom Hulce), whose lively melodies, tossed off effortlessly by the 26-year-old, are far superior to Salieri's. But what really gets the older man seething is Mozart's mannerisms; he's a grinning goof with a high-pitched giggle and an adolescent's social skills, and he playfully mocks Salieri's stiff demeanor and formal, uninspired style of musicianship. Salieri embarks on an elaborate campaign to destroy a man-child on whom he believes God has unfairly bestowed creative genius.
Mozart has plenty of weak points. He gambles away his money and carouses with the Viennese nightlife, then works feverishly on operas and symphonies to support his small household. Salieri's insinuations keep Mozart from enjoying a comfortable salary from the Emperor, and he discovers another way to mess with Mozart's head through the composer's troubled relationship with a demanding, disapproving father. All the while Salieri pretends to be Mozart's truest friend, and he's tremendously moved by Mozart's artistic output, even as he ensures his ailing victim won't live past his early 30s.
Is it any good?
Czech-born director Milos Foreman draws viewers in by having his largely American cast speak with their own voices in plain English rather than performing in out-of-tune accents and dialects. While the real Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was not the scruffy and impish type depicted here -- and there's no real evidence his jealous rival Salieri engaged in a conspiracy to murder him -- Amadeus does rock as a morality drama using these real-life figures and their music in an ornate, if lengthy, tale of envy, talent, and wicked manipulation. Some music scholars wince at the distorted images of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and lesser-known composer Antonio Salieri perpetuated by this multiple Oscar winner (and the Peter Shaffer play that inspired it).
One of the movie's strongest images is an ominous Dr. Doom-masked figure (an agent of Salieri) pushing Mozart over the edge by hiring the struggling composer to write a funeral requiem. It really did happen, but this culprit was actually a notorious fraud who regularly commissioned pieces from down-on-their-luck composers, then passed the work off as his own. And, though Salieri's jealousy of Mozart is well-documented, there's no evidence he deliberately drove the upstart to an untimely grave.
Talk to your kids about ...
Parents can talk about how historical movies like Amadeus and TV shows can distort the truth. What sources do you use to learn about history? When do you question the accuracy of a historical tale?
Are there any role models in this story?
What comments do you think this movie is making about the meaning of genius, of mediocrity, and of the role of the artist in society and whether talent is innate, developed through hard work, or a combination of the two?
Though the movie clearly attempts to show Mozart as the "rock star" of his time, it could inspire discussion about why some artists choose to abuse drugs and alcohol.
- In theaters: September 19, 1984
- On DVD or streaming: September 24, 2002
- Cast: Elizabeth Berridge, F. Murray Abraham, Tom Hulce
- Director: Milos Forman
- Studio: Warner Bros.
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Arts and Dance, History, Music and Sing-Along
- Character Strengths: Perseverance
- Run time: 158 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: brief nudity
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.