I walked into Michael Haneke’s “Amour” expecting to walk out an emotional wreck. The film — which screened in D.C. last week and, probably thanks to its Oscar nominations for Best Picture and Best Foreign Film, expands to more screens this week — is about an elderly couple, Georges and Anne (Jean-Louis Trintignant and best-actress nominee Emmanuelle Riva), and what they endure after she has a stroke.
Watching Anne as she goes from needing Georges’ help to use the bathroom to needing him to feed herself to needing him for everything is obviously not a fun journey, for them or for the audience. When I left, though, I found myself strangely reassured.
So many romantic movies end with a wedding, it’s easy not to think about what “till death do us part” actually looks like. “Amour” makes it clear that Georges and Anne had a long, happy life together, but it’s one of the few movies that show what happens at the end of that life. When’s the last time you saw a romantic movie in which one member of a couple changed the other’s diaper?
In the movies, old people are always old and never die. Well, they might die, but it’s usually in their sleep, with someone discovering them in the morning; or it’s in the hospital, where a machine goes “beeeeeeeeeeep” to signal the end; or it’s offscreen, when the film cuts from Grandma imparting wisdom right to Grandma’s funeral. In “Amour,” death is hard; it’s slow and it’s painful and it’s scary.
Anne had Georges there the entire time, holding her hand and putting peach juice in her oatmeal to make it taste a little better. Anne’s slow slide into death is a reminder of what will probably happen to all of us (so few of us are lucky enough to go quickly), but Georges is there to give us hope that, when our own romance must end, we won’t be alone.