Amour?

I can’t honestly urge anybody to see “Amour,” the French film that won the Oscar for best foreign film. It’s difficult to watch. If you want to see it–and it’s a fine movie–I’d encourage you to go with others who can talk it through afterwards. You can’t see “Amour” without thinking hard about your life.

The story is of two aging French music teachers. The wife, Anne, suffers a stroke. We watch as she declines in agonizing slow motion, and her husband Georges attempts to care for her. We see all the indignities, the terror and frustration. Nothing is romanticized; there are no compensations. These two clearly love each other, and the title, “Love,” is not ironic. But it’s not inspiring, either.

This kind of “amour” isn’t sweet or touching or motivating. This is love full of dread and duty.

That’s why you need people with whom to talk it through. The film presents the end of life for Georges and Anne the way they experience it: as a prison with no exit. But does it have to be that way? They see suicide as the only option. But there are actually many choices that they refuse.

They choose to be alone in their plight. They are not on terribly good terms with their daughter, who lives far away, but she wants to help, and offers to help. Georges rebuffs her.

He is reluctant to look for help, beyond a nurse who comes three times a week. Georges doesn’t get respite. He sees no one–no friends, no professional helpers. Hospice is not on board.

These two have built genteel, dignified lives. They love music. They inhabit a charming apartment full of their comforts. They have made it their castle. Facing terribly hard reality, they pull up the drawbridge.

You sense that all their lives they have cultivated independence, even from each other. Anne bristles against being cared for. She won’t listen to music, even a CD sent by one of her students, a successful pianist. The exigencies of care force Georges and Anne as close together as two humans can be, but there is little or no laughter in the way they embrace their indignities, only duty. And love. Genuine love.

But love is not enough. They need help, all kinds of help. They need community. Even with the best of help, what they go through is devastatingly hard. But hard is not the same as miserable. And they are fundamentally, abjectly miserable.

“Amour” pushes you to ask, “What would I do differently?” Lots of people have created charming, dignified lives that go well as long as they are healthy and have enough money. When they lose their health or their money, they may try to pull back into themselves, like a snail retreating into its shell. Georges and Anne do.  It’s just too undignified to admit people into their castle, to disturb their calculated life. They are stoics in the classical sense: their well-cultivated virtues will have to see them through.

It’s better to be undignified. It’s better to ask for help. It’s better to laugh and cry together. It’s better to be weak. It’s better to be dependent. It’s better to have friends. It’s better to rely on your family.

It’s still hard.

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4 Responses to “Amour?”

  1. Bill Reichert Says:

    Amen.

  2. Dulce Says:

    Thoughful review. Yes, the movie displays commitment steeped in misery. Fortunately the closing chapter of this journey, as grueling and painful as it can be for the caregiver, need not be meaningless and void of beauty.

    I just spent two years caring for my mother who passed away a few weeks ago. It was hard watching her lose her mental and physical faculties as she sank deeper into the throes of Alzheimer’s disease. The last six weeks were taxing beyond words and total exhaustion fails short of describing the last two. But there was still beauty in the midst of pain as we watched her being birthed into eternity.

    This was a life transforming experience for our family. I found a new appreciation for my husband of 27 years as I watched him sit by my mother’s bedside, holding her hand and humming songs that were special to her. I found it amazing how he could help me change her diapers while making sure he didn’t violate her privacy. Our three yound adult children gave of themselves in multiple ways.

    Several dear friends cooked and delivered meals; a few stayed for a couple of hours so our family could attend church together. Many prayed for us and sent encouraging cards.

    I can honestly say that we are all grateful for this opportunity to serve our Lord by treating with dignity “the least of these” . . . We have been vividly reminded of the brevity of life on this earth. As my husband told me a couple of nights ago “I would do it all over again.”

  3. Lynne Fox Says:

    I was touched, challenged, and encouraged by this wonderful post expanding the living out of Amour. Your concluding remarks on dependency with dignity touched my heart. It IS better to be vulnerable in the community of those we love and who love us. Thanks.

  4. Una Says:

    Oh my goodness! Impressive article dude! Thank
    you, However I am going through issues with your RSS.
    I don’t understand why I cannot join it. Is there anyone else getting identical RSS problems? Anyone who knows the answer will you kindly respond? Thanks!!

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