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Does "Amour" Promote Euthanasia Cause?

Amour, in French, though produced and directed by Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke, describes an elderly couple in Paris who are dealing with rapidly declining health, and manages to make this seemingly common domestic fate riveting. It has been nominated for Oscars for "Best Picture", as well as for "Best Foreign Picture" and various acting and directing accomplishments. Most reviews have been glowing and there is no avoiding one's appreciation for exquisite acting (by Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emanuelle Riva, both in their 80s) and artful production qualities of this film.

Like other Haneke films (most famously, The Conformist), Amour makes the viewer uncomfortable. The camera ostensibly is non-judgmental and there are many subtle surprises and--spoiler alert!--a shocking act of euthanasia near the end. Anyone who has been close to someone dying will recognize the quotidian pattern of hope and despair woven through this story.

Amour surely is going to win at least one Oscar ("Best Foreign Picture") and just the fact that it has been nominated in so many categories makes it a topic of conversation. It is a brilliantly understated drama. But it also will win attention because it is another film that seems to push the social issues envelope in a progressive direction. In this it evokes Cider House Rules which aimed to support abortion. Haneke, in at least one interview, acknowledges that he personally approves of euthanasia.

So there are likely to be a number of commentaries about what an enlightened attitude this film exhibits. Just thinking about it, well-educated senior citizens who tend to find their coziest home in front of Masterpiece Theater, will remind one another about signing Do-Not-Resuscitate directives.

But I am not so certain that the emotional lesson, or the reasoned conclusion, of Amour is support for mercy-killing. Certainly, the act of euthanasia in Amour raised very different reactions from me and at least one other person who has seen the film recently. That is: The act of euthanasia in the film is not only one of desperation, but of increasing delusional behavior that ends in a whimsy of pathetic folly (I won't spoil that part). It is not admirable; it is tragic. Moreover, it suggests that both partners suffer from the misguided assumption that many people have these days--that they know now, before they get terminally ill, how they are going to want it to end when the actual time comes. In reality, the life force is strong and we are willing to put up with a lot more than we expect. Euthanasia (or assisted suicide) can be a lot messier and humiliating and demeaning than is supposed. It also affects other people.

For example, there is a great sadness in the film about how the old couple shuts out their one daughter and her family. They are treated with impatience and annoyance, if not scorn. The daughter supposedly is too wrapped up in her own life to understand what is going on and her parents aren't really interested in involving her. Yet, as the film itself makes clear, she is going to be their survivor. The guilt, the confusion, the sense of alienation will be hers. The consequences won't be good for the couple's friends or neighbors either. In other words, if Herr Haneke wants Amour to lend respect to euthanasia, I believe his film undermines that purpose.

However, it is a very good advertisement for humane end-of-life care and the need for aging adults and their families to plan for it wisely.

You can email brucechapman@discovery.org

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