Of all the emotions associated with love, documented and delineated in movies, and popular culture – extreme exhilaration, limitless dejection – the one that has seldom been explored in depth has to be getting used to. And that one emotion is the closest, the most perennial companion in any relationship. Because even if all other emotions wither, getting used to dies at the last, as it’s not chained to desolate, perky moments, but rather builds up over a period of time, slowly – during moments of silence, of endless banter, of times when both of them are in the same room but doing different things, and the presence of the other is not an intrusion, but just another comfortable mundane moment.
Georges and Anne would have both experienced variants of aforementioned emotions. They both are in their 80s. They must have been easily married for more than five decades. They live alone, with the exception of a helper who sometimes gets groceries and other household items for them. One morning, when Anne suddenly goes quiet and motionless eating her breakfast, Georges takes her to the doctor. The operation goes wrong, and Anne is partially paralyzed, confined to a wheelchair.
Now, Anne is not only emotionally dependent on Georges, she’s also physically dependent on him – she can’t get off the bed from his help, she needs him to pick her up when she’s finished her morning ablutions, every seemingly insignificant thing in her life has to be routed via Georges now. It’s a strange, even disturbing age reversal of sorts – a lady in her eighties has reverted to become a kid now, her immobile state causes her to wear diapers. The only significant difference here is, unlike a kid, Anne has developed mental faculties. And she doesn’t like what she has become, and what she’s causing Georges to become. Even in her physically vulnerable state, one can see traces of a fiercely independent woman, who’s not afraid of putting her foot down. She doesn’t mince words either; she tells Georges that she’s become a burden on him, and he doesn’t have to put up with it at all. Georges is nonplussed. He loves her; he has to take care of her. She’s not a burden on him. Georges is stating a principle, Anne doubts the extent. Can love be truly liberating at all the times, or does it also tires us, wears us down?
There’s a lot of bleakness in Amour, but Haneke doesn’t try to abate it, rather he amplifies it, by keeping the camera at a distance from the protagonists. He often places the camera in the hallway, when the couple is conversing in the other room, a significant distance away, so much so that at times we don’t even see them, just hear them. There’s this constant frigidness in the movie, a never ending sparseness, borne at times by minimalist dialogues, dimly lit set pieces, and at times by the never ending hopelessness. Haneke is just not testing the octogenarian couple, but also us.
The physical breakdown of things we love often spawns an emotion we were hitherto unaware of – shame. And it can be as debilitating as anything, because it throws us into an endless labyrinth of self defense, turning us into hard-to-be-reasoned cynics. Georges refuses her daughter to meet Anne when she comes home the second time. Georges might even have a legitimate reason. Anne’s situation has worsened, she can barely string together individual words, let alone form a sentence. It’s humiliating and taxing to see and hear her struggle like this, both for Anne and Georges. He doesn’t want her to be paraded in a situation like this in front of the entire world. Not even in front of her daughter.
But it’s in the final leg of the movie that we truly understand the dynamics of the relationship between Anne and Georges. More than Anne being dependent on Georges, it’s he who’s dependent on her. His daily chores are frequently dictated and controlled by Anne’s painful cries. And hence, most of his physical and emotional decisions are chained to and revolve around Anne. It’s a strange new relationship bordering on the morbid, this constant interplay of dependency, and who holds the string of the relationship, emotionally, and physically.
And that’s where the movie seems to be headed finally: control. When we love someone we have to relinquish control, because most of the things are to be done in conjunction, most of the things have to be agreed upon, most of the things have to be rooted somewhere. But what happens if we do suddenly realize the power of control? Georges does ultimately. And he finds that it can be as addicting an emotion as anything he had experienced before. Consider his current life: he’s resigned to accept whatever has been thrown at him. He doesn’t have much of an option, he’s a doddering old man, but then suddenly he discovers the joys and madness of control.
And it envelops him.