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Love and euthanasia

Tim Kroenert |  20 February 2013

Amour (M). Director: Michael Haneke. Starring: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva. 127 minutes

Austrian filmmaker Haneke is known for his at times didactic ruminations on violence in its various permutations in life and popular culture. Amour is his most poignant film to date: the violent event at its core is an act of marital euthanasia, whose sweetly but unsettlingly ritualised aftermath is discovered during the opening scene.

Of course, on the face of it, violence is too bald a term for euthanasia. It belies the complexity of the human responses that underpin such an act. Haneke is fascinated by human motivations more than violence itself. And so after showing us the gruesome aftermath, his film flashes back to the difficult events that led up to the act.

He offers us a carefully detailed dissertation on the experiences of aged musician Anne (Riva) and her adored and adoring husband Georges (Trintignant), during the course of Anne's deterioration from a degenerative illness. Early in the illness, Anne asks Georges to let her die. In the first instance, he staunchly refuses.

There are moments that highlight the misery of Anne's condition, the slights rendered against her dignity. She awakens in a puddle of brown urine; labours excruciatingly over every syllable she speaks, but is misunderstood; howls in pain as she is showered. Georges can do little but tend dutifully to her needs. Is it enough?

Haneke regards his characters with affection, although not intimacy. He sets the camera at a clinical distance. His gaze is anthropological rather than voyeuristic. Watch, he seems to be saying; here are the characters, here is the dynamic of their relationship, here is how her illness unfolds, here is how Georges responds.

This could be an academic exercise if not for the devastating performances. Riva embodies Anne's degeneration from vibrant woman to frustrated invalid. Her agony is tangible as she loses control of her bodily functions and mental faculties. Trintignant's Georges witnesses her decline with a quiet, living grief and weary dignity.

Euthanasia may be at the heart of the film, but Haneke, who can be so didactic, seems uninterested here in an ideological debate. His title may be taken as a question, or as a declamation. Is it love that motivates Georges to prolong Anne's life? Is it love that drives him ultimately to end it? Yes, says Haneke to both. Look: Love. 

Tim Kroenert headshotTim Kroenert is Assistant Editor of Eureka Street



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Submitted comments

True story this one: a few years ago now, my husband and I went to see a film called "Away From Her" which starred Julie Christie and I'm unsure who played the male lead in the story. It was about the wife developing dementia, her institutionalisation and her husband's grief. It was a confronting film for both of us to watch and I can still smile when I recall my husband saying during the drive home "My turn next to choose a movie. I'll pick something a bit more cheerful shall I?".

Pam 20 February 2013

Thanks, a moving a review of the film which I can't see. Anne's last month recurs now. She has twice attempted to die by suicide; the schizophrenia is intractable, incurable. I have told her if the despair overwhelms again I will help and stay with her. "No mum, they'd get you for murder.". We fight the Alfred Psych. Unit where we're told she must leave on Monday "because we need beds for Easter". We lose. Anne goes to the unit she shares with a friend; the next evening she finds peace at last; with her head on the railway track, she waits. The severely mentally ill know this is a sure way to end the despair. More than one person a week does this in Victoria. I write, with all sympathy, to the train driver. These sufferers die tragically, always, always alone. Even Jesus Christ, also dying by choice, had his mother and friends with him. The Catholic Church need not acquiesce to euthanasia but it must just speak to its members. Stop influencing governments! Some 85% of Victorians believe no person in total despair should have to die horrifically, and alone, to attain peace.

Caroline storm 21 February 2013

Just because people are in excruciating pain does not mean they do not want to live. Just because people are dependent on others does not mean they wish to die. For the case against euthanasia the see film based on a true story. the Intouchables. The real man with quadriplegia, very much wants to live despite terrible pain and being very dependent on others.

Catherine 21 February 2013

Catherine, there is no suggestion that euthanasia is compulsory! There are no doubt many people who want to live and that, and that is their right. There are also people who want to die, and that, and the choice of the means, is their right. Teach what you wish to your members, but, as Caroline says, stop meddling with the rights of others!

Ginger Meggs 21 February 2013

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