I WILL FOLLOW YOU INTO THE DARK
by Michelle Said
This is what we want: to fall in love, to find the person that will make the day-to-day bearable, even enjoyable, to have security in finding a home within another.
We want to grow old with that person.
We will attend operas and eat dinners, we will sit on the bus, happy just to be together, no urgent conversations, no desperate discussions. All of that is gone and what is left is the effervescent mundane.
We will be told we are beautiful even when our hair is gray and our skin is saggy and we have liver spots covering our forearms. We will be told that we are beloved even when our faces are roadmaps of wrinkles.
This is our happy ending.
This is what we dream of when the credits roll, after the couple has kissed and declared their love. It is implicit — the promise of a future together.
It’s the dream of all —- not the American dream or the European dream or the dream of today’s youth or an ancient generation. It’s the human dream: to create and procreate, to find another person who will embrace you for all of your flaws and stick with you until the very end.
Yet the end is the end. And what if that end is not swift? What if the end is a series of very unfortunate events? What if it is a whimper that turns into a gutteral moan?
Amour, as the title suggests, is a movie about love. There are many films out there about devotion and what it means to be truly, deeply enmeshed with another person, but none have hit quite so hard as this. None have shown what it really means to love another human being with every ounce of yourself.
There is an inevitability in the movie that is established right from the opening scene, wherein firemen come into the apartment, which has been sealed off and locked. They find a woman’s body surrounded by wilting flower petals in her bedroom. The stench and decay is apparent, but still there’s a certain loveliness to the scene, a sort of romance. This, clearly, was a woman well-loved. But why was she left like that? Why was there no funeral?
Georges and Anne are retired music teachers living in a Parisian apartment, a setting which seems to mirror their life together: comfortable, elegant and full of a life well-lived. They have a daughter, who has gone off and married an Englishman and lives in London. They have grandchildren, but they never appear. But, no matter. They have one another, and that’s what’s important.
On a morning like any other, Anne disappears. One moment she is running water over boiled eggs, and the next she is gone. Her body is still there, but her vacant eyes suggest that she has gone somewhere else, somewhere far away. Georges clasps his hands around his face, desperate for some recognition. He calls her name, but she has vanished. He wanders away to get dressed or get help, it seems as if he’s not sure. He hears the running water in the other room stop. He returns to find his wife, back at the table, angry at him for having left the water running. He asks her what happened, and she says nothing. She can’t remember a thing.
It’s only when she attempts to pour her tea that we realize that something is terribly wrong.
Amour is a movie about love, and what it means. What it means for the person who is slipping away and for the person who is left behind. Georges wants to keep his beautiful, graceful, intelligent wife, but there is no winning against the failing of the body and the march of time.
The performances in the movie are exquisite. Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva are both legends of French film, and in this movie they move with a symbiotic fluidity. Riva becomes almost unrecognizable in her slow decline as Trintignant becomes more and more desperate to sustain her. He goes through all the recognizable stages of grief in his gradual assumption in the role of widower.
There is a Ben Folds song called “The Luckiest,” where he sings, “Next door there’s an old man who lived to his nineties and one day passed away in his sleep / and his wife, she stayed for a couple of days, and passed away.” That is what we think of when we think of the romance of the end. But the truth is more painful and much harder.
The measures Georges takes are all in the name of love. But there is a fine line between selflessness and selfishness in this war. In the end, he makes the ultimate sacrifice to declare his devotion.
And it is love. It is. It is.
It is true love.
Michelle Said is a writer living in New York.
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