What does wide critical acceptance of a film “advertisement for euthanasia” tell us?

By Dave Andrusko

Editor’s note. Depending on time, I am really going to make a real effort next week to review some of the recent films and documentaries that advance the cause of physician-assisted suicide, either fairly subtly or very overtly. As a kind of preview, here is a post we ran back in 2012 about one of the most dangerous films of this type.

Amour paints Jean-Louis Trintignant's devoted but ultimately murderous husband as the hero. Photograph: Allstar/Canal+/Sportsphoto Ltd

Amour paints Jean-Louis Trintignant’s devoted but ultimately murderous husband as the hero. Photograph: Allstar/Canal+/Sportsphoto Ltd

Movie reviewers don’t carry the same weight they did during the glory days of titans such as Pauline Kael, Roger Ebert, and Andrew Sarris. But if there are no longer the stars there used to be, there are still lesser planets such as the Washington Post’s Ann Hornaday.

“Amour” [“Love”] was #10 on her list of the ten best films of 2012. And it won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film. Her capsule summary of her own longer review includes this: “Michael Haneke’s technically flawless, emotionally devastating drama about an elderly couple facing illness and death was part of an encouraging trend this year in surprisingly honest depictions of aging…”

From Hornaday’s full-blown review, we’re instructed that Haneke is

a notoriously gimlet-eyed filmmaker whose austere style and facile pessimism often has been mistaken for philosophical depth. But with ‘Amour,’ Haneke seems to be making a genuine step toward humanism, tempering his usual chilly sense of superiority with discretion and empathy.

Wow. This from the director of such an incredibly violent, sadistic film as “Funny Games.” Who’d thunk?

Well, if you happened to have read Amy E. Hasbrouck’s “Amour and Fear: Assisted Suicide at the Oscars,” you know that Hornaday is wrong on about every count you could imagine. “Amour” is still another depressing illustration of a familiar—and malicious—myth: that of the gentle, loving husband who out of “compassion” kills his afflicted wife.

I hope you read Amy’s brilliant review [www.notdeadyet.org/2013/02/amy-hasbrouck-amour-and-fear-assisted-suicidemercy-killing-at-the-oscars.html]. In addition, I would like to add a couple of comments drawing on Margaret Morganroth Gullette’s stunning review of the film in The Guardian newspaper. I begin with the headline: “Amour: how can we embrace a film that is so clearly an advert[isement] for euthanasia?”

Gullette, a resident scholar at Brandeis University, looks at the film through a feminist theoretician’s eyes, but also as the author of “Agewise: Fighting the New Ageism in America.” So her insights are very much worth reading.

For our purposes here, what’s most important is how the film stacks the deck. By making the husband (Georges) seemingly such a pillar of loving devotion to his wife Anne as her health precipitously declines, smothering her with a pillow seems both shockingly unexpected but “understandable.” Here is one of Gullette’s key insights:

One of the implicit convictions of the film is that a carer [care giver] – even one as assiduous as Jean-Louis Trintignant’s Georges – will crack under the strain of caring for a stroke victim. Georges is so devoted for so long that only two scenes prepare for his emotional breakdown. One is when he slaps her. The other is a dream, foretelling violence. Georges is walking down his hallway, which is filling up with water, when he is attacked from behind by a hand over his nose and mouth. Who would not retaliate to such a brutal home invasion (which is what Anne in her changed state now represents)? This scene even foreshadows the way he will kill her, smothering her.”

Take five minutes to read the full review. She asks many very disturbing question including would the film have been such a success in art houses if it had been a wife killing a husband? Have we become soft on and accepting of what Gullette astutely labels “gendered euthanasia”?

Indeed, are we rapidly accommodating ourselves to the lethal conclusion that at a certain age/condition, men and women (and especially women) really ARE better off dead and that we almost have an obligation to (how should I phrase it?) expedite their passing?

Let me end with Gullette’s disturbingly accurate final paragraph:

“..[W]e have a film detailing Georges’ protracted caregiving so respectfully and Anne’s decline so cruelly that it becomes hard to disagree with Georges’ masochistic choices, or even notice that he has broken down. It presents a nonconsensual termination of life as a solution for the carer: it justifies euthanasia. That such a film has been so widely acclaimed while remaining so ill-examined is a dangerous thing.”