That’s ‘Amour’

In this month’s 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair poll, all the questions were about love.

While most of the queries were boring and predicable—“Do you believe in love at first sight?” “How important is good sex to a successful relationship?”— there was one consideration that caught my eye, and is worth pondering at greater length:  “Which marriage vow is the hardest to keep?”

Is it “To always be faithful”?  “In sickness and in health”?  “For richer and for poorer”?  Or perhaps, simply, “For better and for worse”?

In other words, how might we truly take the measure of one’s love for someone else?  That is, of course, assuming such a thing can be measured at all.

These impossible questions are the subject of Amour, the amazing new movie by Michael Haneke, which opens in Boston this weekend.

What the film is about—indeed, all that the film is about—is that it’s easy enough for two halves of a marriage to declare their love for one another when they’re young, healthy and relatively carefree.  It is the arrival of difficulty, disease and death when the measure of one’s devotion is put to the test.

Amour is the story of Anne and Georges, a long-married couple now in their 80s.  After a lifetime of mutual self-sufficiency, Anne suffers a stroke and requires Georges’s support—moral and physical—in ways neither of them is used to or particularly adept at handling.

What makes Amour great—nay, what makes it tolerable—is its understanding that true love, in the context of a long marriage, has very little to do with sex or even romance, and everything to do with commitment, sacrifice and accepting that some things are more important than your own happiness.

In one sequence, we see Georges feeding Anne a glass of water through a straw, which she is no longer able to do herself.  Anne is deeply demoralized by having to go about such a basic task in this manner, and George’s own impatience is evident as well.

Georges’s measure of devotion here is proved not by the pleasure he might derive from assisting his wife, but by the obvious agony.  Scenes of him helping Anne off the toilet, raising her from bed and cutting up her vegetables make a similar point:  He doesn’t particularly enjoy doing any of these things, but his marriage vows demand it.

The movie contains no musical score, no moments of overt melodrama, no yelling and shouting—no “action,” at least by the standards of conventional cinema.  Amour is largely a series of long, static shots as the characters carry on their lives as best they know how.

As a movie, Amour would be unbearably tedious were it not so well-acted, well-directed and, well, true.  It is dramatic in the sense that life itself is dramatic.  It works because we understand why Anne and Georges behave as they do—even if we might have acted differently in a comparable situation.

But then we can’t know such things until they actually happen.  People express love in different ways, and there are certain forms we might not notice or appreciate until after the fact.  In his first Late Late Show monologue following the death of his father, Craig Ferguson very affectingly recounted the way his father never expressed emotion, but that through four decades of hard work as a postal worker, providing steady support for his wife and kids, “I was never in any doubt that he loved me.”

In its way, Amour is a cautionary tale against entering into a marriage lackadaisically, not taking the commitment seriously and not thinking things through.  It is an institution that is not for the fainthearted.

As America grapples with the changing meaning of marriage in today’s society, we have come to recognize that for a time marriage was largely about commitment, but that today it is largely about love.

What Amour suggests above all else is that these two enigmatic concepts are not mutually exclusive.  Those traditional marriage vows, as old as the hills, are not a hindrance to true love, but rather are the means to its fullest expression.  For better and for worse.

37 Comments

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37 responses to “That’s ‘Amour’

  1. Hope I get a chance to see this (especially after reading your review). It has not been playing in the mainstream movie theaters here even though it has been nominated for several Oscars.

  2. My 8 year old daughter recently regurgitated a repetitious message of mine into a simple truth: everyone makes a big fuss over weddings, but marriage is more important. To my mind, the difficult moments are a much more honest measure of love than the most romantic gesture.

  3. Yes I was not sure about seeing this film either, ironically for exactly the same reasons you outline marriage as not being for the faint hearted. Just one look at the poster and a skim over the synopsis told me that it was going to be a gut-wrencher – exactly like I expect marriage to be! I’ll probably go through with it though.

  4. Great post right there! I am following you now, if you ever want to know about Ocean Paddling then follow us back, my name is Carlos! Cheers!

  5. You are right on with your thoughts on the state of American love and commitment. I personally am struggling over my commitment to a woman I love, and it’s meaning to me fulfilling my life purpose at http://purposepages.com/ Please wish me well over it.

  6. Thanks very much for posting this! I saw a snippet of it during the Golden Globes and was wondering what it was about. I definitely want to see it now!

  7. This type of love – the kind that recognizes that there are some things more important than your own happiness – “sacrificial love,” I suppose you could call it, is natural when you’re raising children, cleaning up their vomit and changing their diapers. It’s also somewhat natural with aging parents, when “what goes around comes around,” and you find yourself cleaning your Mom’s behind and feeding her pureed veggies, just as she did for you.

    But I think it must be much harder in this scenario, when your lover becomes your burden. Sounds like an interesting movie, if the acting is as good as you say. Depressing, though?

    Anyway, congrats on being Freshly Pressed! Nice job.

  8. Very well written and said. Thank you for sharing.

  9. Nice review. I feel like watching the movie as well. :)

  10. Thanks for the beautiful review on “Armour”. Keep posting such reviews more and more…

  11. oh wow….”What Amour suggests above all else is that these two enigmatic concepts are not mutually exclusive. Those traditional marriage vows, as old as the hills, are not a hindrance to true love, but rather are the means to its fullest expression. For better and for worse.”
    indeed gorgeous…simple and deeply meaningful…i wish to get my better or for worse love than any other…amazingly written…made me walk through the movie almost :)

  12. I’ll watch out for this and hopefully be able to make a review too. Thanks for sharing a great review and congratulations on being FP!

  13. Reblogged this on Elliot Claire London and commented:
    Great review…

  14. Being June

    I clicked “Like,” but I wish there was a “Love” button. Well done and congrats on being Freshly Pressed.

  15. This is indeed a very good movie and a very clear post of the actual story of the movie

  16. I loved this post. And I am so with Craig Ferguson (probably because I’m Scottish) – love is about action not words. You show people you love them by remaining committed to their wellbeing every day. :)

  17. Thank you for sharing this story with us, it´s kind of inspiring!

  18. C.J

    Wow! Well written. Enjoyed :)

  19. harrietelsom2

    Would love to watch the film. I will look out for it. Really insightful writing!!

  20. ladylovesmallows

    Reblogged this on Don't Touch The Marshmallows and commented:
    Food for thought.

  21. This post was a good reminder of priorities for me since I’m getting married for the first time in a couple months. Congrats on being freshly pressed!

  22. Read so many great reviews about and it looks like my sorta movie. I’m definitely watching this:)

  23. ‘these two enigmatic concepts are not mutually exclusive. Those traditional marriage vows, as old as the hills, are not a hindrance to true love, but rather are the means to its fullest expression. For better and for worse.’
    Amazing. This is what I love about writing. So often in life there are things we inherently know to be true. But they are so basic, or we are so overexposed to them that we stop being able to hear them, or notice them. And then someone comes along who has taken the time to notice the beauty in something, and then finds a way to use words to presents it in a refreshing light that makes others stop and ponder an all-too-familiar concept as though for the first time. Thank you.

  24. nice review about true love..true love requires trust,understanding, encouragement, support to grow..thanx 4 the review! :)

  25. I don’t have a son, but I wonder the same things about boys and society. I think having a boy would change how I mother. I would need to create space for a boy to be a boy. Great insightful post. Kristi from http://www.hallelujahhighway.com

  26. As a volunteer who visits people with a physical limitation (especially the elderly) I’ve seen this scene for real. Both from the ‘needy’ person’s point of view and the caregiver. He (85) waits on her (71) all day long (in between the times that a service comes to help her get dressed, washed and later undressed and to bed). He is tied to the house at all times when she is there, which is almost always.

    These are not the golden years. He is a quiet, resigned, homey type. Not everyone can endure this lifestyle, no matter how strong the love is, without breaking down him/herself.

  27. natatie

    Great review :) Amour ist really worth watching it.

  28. you discribe marriage as I would…

  29. It sounds so poignant and beautiful and real. I think the film industry needed this. I certainly would like to see it now.

    Adieu, scribbler

  30. kmbara

    I have yet to see this movie but thank you so much for writing about this topic. I good romance is always fun but there are many misconceptions about the reality of marriage and what is truly important.

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