Loving and Dying
What Amour can teach us about dealing with the end of life.
With Valentine’s Day approaching , you may be on the lookout for cute, romantic films to inspire the warm-fuzzies with you and your beloved. May you be warned: this is not the one for you. Yes, the film is French, and yes its title translates to ‘Love’; but that is about where the warm-fuzzies end on this one.
Death is a very real part of life. If I may empty my glass half way for a moment, every day of life is a slow step towards the end. Most days aren’t a very big step; a bang to the head or a stub of your toe. But then come days that make us suddenly come abruptly face-to-face with our fragile mortality.
Georges and Anne are the quintessential elderly couple with the relationship that we all aspire to enjoy in our closing years. He helps her out of her coat and they hold hands at the dinner table. However, it is during a typical moment at the table that their lives take a dramatic turn.
She sits in silence. “What’s the matter,” he says. No response.
Although not particularly dramatic in a visual sense, witnessing an on-screen stroke in its entirety sets the tone for what is destined to be a heavy and gut-wrenching look into a slow descent into death. Within the first 10 minutes of the film our beloved grandmother has been handed her destiny, and we must sit with her and hold her hand till the very end.
With some shots lasting multiple minutes, director Michael Haneke sets a tone of drawn-out waiting. We are waiting for the next shot, while Anne is waiting for the next life.
Like myself, you are unlikely to be facing such a grueling and morbid reality anytime soon (or at least I hope not). In college, our lives are bursting with potential and these highs are easy enough to ride out. The highs of life are what allow us to live through the lows and not give in to how difficult they may be. Georges starts as us at our best: his life was good and it gives him perspective as his life begins to get more difficult.
However, as death wears on his wife, life wears on him. The climax of the film exposes life and death colliding in a dramatic manner that leaves you shaken. Suddenly, life is soaked with all of the negativity to which death is associated.
The final scene has one last hit of poetic imagery. The daughter stands alone in the apartment. We are not told when in the timeline this takes place, or what she knows at this point about her mother’s situation. She stands there, alone. Waiting. Purgatory takes the form of a Parisian apartment.
No matter what stage in life (or death), we are surrounded with unknowns and elements out of our control. We are Georges, trying to take control of our situation. Anne is our life, slowly coming to an end. But regardless of what we do, that end is inevitable; we must take pleasure in what is given to us in life and realize that death is just another thing we are given.
Rarely graphic, never crude, but relentlessly unforgiving in its painful reality.