A Headshrinker's Guide to the Galaxy

Psychoanalytic wisdom for everyday life

A Psychoanalytic Look At AMOUR: An Insufferable Sadness

Putting words to it, by Sandra Fenster, Ph.D.

No one can watch, or remember, Michael Haneke’s ‘Amour’, without being suddenly awash in horror at the way Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) frees Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) from her suffering. Does he do it for himself? For her?  Or for them both?  His choice of methods—shockingly violent, and a disorienting contrast to their gentle singing together—is, of course, disturbing. Yet, in it we see the abrupt turn of Georges’ quietly escalating desperation; the trap he’s increasingly suffocated by.

This movie belongs to Georges. It is his story; the story of a man forced to stand on the sidelines helplessly watching, with slow agony, his beloved leaving him. Although he seems to be managing quite well, he’s not. With Haneke’s infusion of memories from Georges’ childhood; his nightmare—we see the shadows of Georges real trap take shape: his inability to cry; to be comforted; to share his loss with his daughter, Eva (Isabelle Huppert); to let Anne go; to mourn.

Find a Therapist

Search for a mental health professional near you.

Georges’ memories, as memories can do, take us to the heart of his current struggles. In the first, Georges as a young boy, returns from a sad movie only to have an older boy callously walk away, as a crying Georges tries to retell the story. Georges’ second memory is at camp, separated from his mother. When a cruel counselor makes him stay at the table until he finishes what’s on his plate, Georges sits. Crying. Alone. If a child has no place for sadness; no one to hear it; what does he do?  He sets up the same cold barriers inside (and later towards Eva), as George’s nightmare shows.

The stairs are blocked. A big wooden X—bars any exit. The floors of the hallway are flooding. Georges wakes with a scream. A panic; yes, from the terror of the nightmare; but even more from what the nightmare means: coming face to face with the rising waters of feelings he has done his best to deny. Sadness he can’t allow or escape from; resentment towards Death itself. For it is Death he wants to control and can’t.Yet, in his final desperately frustrated and angry act, he does. But, then, a horrible irony leaves him with what he fears the most. Being alone. And since Georges can’t even let his own daughter in to share their loss – he has barricaded himself in an unendurable forever kind of aloneness.

And then we have the pigeons. Haneke may say he doesn’t like symbols and ‘the pigeon’ means nothing to him; but, to me, the pigeons dropping in unexpectedly twice in the film hold the key. The first pigeon’s entrance is a sudden invasion; as Anne’s illness has forced its way into their lives. Pigeons if allowed, mate for life, and they are a symbol of hope. Georges’ hope and plan to be uninterruptedly with Anne are now steeped in his doomed effort to protect his beloved wife. 

When the pigeon appears for the second time, Anne is dead. Georges catches the pigeon in a blanket, and we hold our breath expecting a second suffocation. Yet, just as suddenly, Georges cradles the wrapped, caught pigeon tenderly in his arms; then—releases it. Powerless to keep Anne stilled in his love; Georges can’t live with the unspeakable hours, days, months, and (perhaps) years he’s condemned to be without her. Unable to free his sadness from the distant prison he’s locked it in; to mourn his loss—Georges can do nothing else but follow.

Copyright 2013 by Sandra Fenster, Ph.D.

Like it!  Tweet it!  Comment on it!

To learn more about Dr. Fenster, visit her website at www.drsandrafester.com

Jennifer Kunst, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst, working with adults and couples in her private practice in Pasadena, CA.

more...

Subscribe to A Headshrinker's Guide to the Galaxy

Current Issue

Love & Lust

Who says marriage is where desire goes to die?