Margaret Somerville

Opinion

Amour: does old age have any honour left?

Margaret Somerville

Amour     
Directed by Michael Haneke      
Starring Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva, Isabelle Huppert     
127 minutes, French with subtitles 
   

January 28, 2013 (Mercatornet.com) - It is a drastic understatement to observe that Austrian director Michael Haneke’s film Amour (Love) is harrowing and heartbreaking. I sat there just wanting it to be over. Yet I couldn’t leave. I felt like an animal caught in a hunter’s spotlight – unable to move, mesmerized.

Amour has been heaped with praise and is an Oscar nominee in five categories, including best film, best director and best foreign film. It is insightfully and accurately described by Francine Prose, of the New York Review of Books blog, as “a masterpiece you might not want to see”. This warning is merited: the film is intensely distressing. Paula Span, in the New York Times, under the banner of the “new old age”, calls Amour “the brutal truth”. Some people will see it as a clarion call for the legalization of euthanasia. I’d suggest, however, that it’s equally, if not more so, a clarion call for our responsibilities as families and a society to correct the circumstances in which many old and vulnerable people find themselves.

Anne (played by Emmanuelle Riva) and Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant), the two main characters in the film, are such people and live in such circumstances. They are financially secure, upper middle-class, retired musicians, living in a classic, elegant apartment in Paris. They have one child, Eva (Isabelle Huppert), who is around 50 years old and visits them occasionally. She has two young-adult children who have left home, is in a troubled marriage, and preoccupied with her own problems. The acting is superb: it is difficult to believe these are not real life events, which adds to the serious emotional distress the film elicits.  

It opens with firemen and a plain clothes detective breaking into an apartment and finding the decomposing body of a clothed, dead woman, with a crucifix on her chest. She is laid out on a bed, surrounded by wilted flowers which have been cut from their stems.

The story then shifts to a concert hall, where Anne and Georges are attending a performance of a Schubert piano concerto by Alexandre (the French pianist Alexandre Tharaud, who plays himself), who, as a 12-year-old, was Anne’s pupil. They are delighted by the performance, but come home to find an attempted break-in to their apartment. Anne suggests calling the police, but Georges refuses. This is the beginning of Haneke’s brilliant portrayal of what proves to be their increasingly vulnerable state and the unavailability of help, and of their, especially Georges’, refusal to accept it or lack of capacity to seek it.

Next morning, Anne and George are eating breakfast and Anne temporarily loses consciousness and is unresponsive to Georges’ questions about what is wrong. She regains consciousness but has no memory of losing it. She pours some tea, which spills because she cannot control her movements. The rest of the film documents in graphic detail both Anne’s physical and mental decline as a result of failed carotid artery surgery, strokes and dementia and Georges’ efforts to care for her, almost entirely without assistance.

We learn that Dr Bertier, Anne’s physician, and a hairdresser come once every two weeks. A nurse whom Georges hires comes three times a week. A second nurse is incompetent and abusive and is fired by Georges. The janitor helps Georges to carry in groceries and the janitor’s wife vacuums the rugs. Both offer whatever other help they can give, but Georges does not take up their offer. They are obviously curious about Anne’s condition and try to linger and talk, but Georges always promptly ushers them out.

Neuroscientist Dr Tiffany Chow, who has just written a book, The Memory Clinic: Stories of Hope and Healing for Alzheimer’s Patients and Their Familiestold the Globe and Mail: “The number one mistake that caregivers make is thinking ‘I can do all this myself’. That’s a guaranteed recipe for burnout. Caregiving has to be done with some allies, whether it’s your personal friends, neighbours, other family members or professional care providers.”

Eva pays the occasional visit to her parents, once accompanied by her husband Howard, who suggests Anne be placed in a nursing home, a proposition Georges adamantly refuses. He has promised Anne, who is frightened of doctors and hates hospitals, to keep her at home.  The only other visitors are Alexandre and a stray pigeon which flies in through an open window.

Meanwhile, we see in great detail Georges helping Anne in and out of her bed and her wheelchair, off the toilet, and, eventually, checking her diapers when she is bedridden; trying to get her to take water from a sipping cup and food from a spoon, both of which she refuses; reading to her; and trying to sooth her when she screams “mal” (hurt) over and over.

Finally, Georges tells Anne a story from his childhood – about being sent away to a summer holiday camp and letting his mother know through a prearranged signal of drawing stars on the weekly postcard he sent home, that he was desperately unhappy there, in part because, like Anne, he refused to eat, in his case, rice pudding. He completes the story, grabs the pillow from his side of their bed and suffocates Anne, whose struggles to escape slowly subside.

Georges goes out to buy flowers from which he cuts the stems and then chooses a dress from Anne’s closet. Our thoughts flash back to the opening scene of what we now realize was Anne’s body on the bed. We then see George using wide adhesive tape to seal the doorway into the bedroom.

In a following scene, the pigeon returns and one can’t be sure, at the time, whether Georges smothers it, as he did Anne, in the blanket in which he caught it, or cuddles and strokes and then releases it. In a letter which we subsequently see him writing, presumably a suicide note, we learn that it was released. This comes as a tiny affirmation of hope and respect for life. But in this unrelentingly depressing and joyless film, which resonates with a “culture of death" and makes death seem vastly preferable to life, it is a hugely welcome one.

So what can we learn from this film?

First, Amour shows us the impact, not only of the presence of love, but also of its absence.

It captures Georges’ and Anne’s love for each other, and Georges’ love as portrayed in his care for Anne. Flowers and music are often associated with love and appear frequently in the film, which is rich with symbolism, allusion and innuendo – for instance, in looking at the family photo album, Anne seems to look only at photos in which she is present.

It also merits noting that Haneke makes powerful use of silence, sometimes to express positive emotions and closeness; sometimes negative ones and alienation. And when Anne and Georges are listening to the CD Alexandre had given them of the concert they had attended, Anne abruptly says, “Stop the CD”, which Georges does. Music seems to represent the thread of life for this couple.

In contrast, the stark absence of love is seen in the almost total lack of any loving support from family, friends or community. Eva sums up her feelings in this regard, “I can’t believe that these days there's no way of handling this [Anne’s illness and Georges’ situation] efficiently.” Efficiency is a bureaucratic, emotionally detached value. From this perspective, the film can be viewed as a tragic commentary on the dissolution of families and the values of mutual support and responsibility for family members, especially when they are vulnerable, because they are old, sick and dying.

Likewise, it can be seen as an indictment of the community’s and society’s failure to provide palliative and hospice care and other support, including respite care, for those who try to look after their loved ones at home. Like Anne, most people want to die at home but can’t because of lack of support for their carers.

When Anne is bedridden and her dementia has become very advanced, she constantly cries out, repeating one word, “Mal” (hurt).  It seems reasonable to interpret this as an indication of pain. Yet, we do not see her being given any pain relief treatment and, as noted already, the doctor visits only once every two weeks. Inadequate pain relief, or fear of being left in pain, is a reason people ask or advocate for euthanasia.

Another reason, and one of the main ones, is that they see themselves as a burden on others, especially their families. Other reasons are loss of control and the feeling that they are losing their dignity. They confuse being independent with having dignity and, therefore, perceive dependence as the loss of dignity. All of these are piercingly and powerfully communicated in Amour. But what can be done to address and eliminate those reasons is nowhere to be found.

In this latter respect, Intimate Death, a book by French psychologist Marie de Hennezel, who specializes in the care of dying people, could not be in starker contrast. In moving and poetic vignettes about dying people, and without denying suffering or romanticizing or glamourizing it, she tells us stories that allow us to see that dying can be the last great act of living.

Essential ingredients for that to be the case are the presence of hope; the sense that our life had meaning and can still have meaning, even when we are dying; the realization that we can still learn and even teach; that we have something to give others; and that we can leave a legacy. None of these features of a “good” death is present in Anne’s and Georges’ situation.

Early in the film, when Anne is wheelchair-bound, but not demented, Pierre, one of her and Georges’ friends, dies and Georges attends the funeral without her. When he returns she asks him about the service. Here’s what he says:

“It was rather bizarre. The priest was an idiot. Then one of Pierre’s co-workers made a speech that was embarrassingly emotional. His old secretary came with a radio cassette player and after the speech she put on “Yesterday” by the Beatles. You can’t imagine. Everybody turned round to look at her. Apparently, it wasn’t planned. His grandchildren were there. Of course they giggled as soon as the music began. Then the urn was put on a huge stretcher that was obviously designed for a coffin, and out we went into the rain. They placed the urn on a small electric cart that crawled along for what seemed like an eternity to the tiny hole they had dug. A lot of people had to stifle their laughter. It must have been terrible for Jeanne [Pierre’s widow].”

There’s a loss of solemnity and respect, a trivialization of the momentousness of death and the losses it involves, a failure to express grief and to mourn and, a lack of opportunity for healing. The secular music, the Beatles’ song “Yesterday”, represents the antithesis of hope. Hope requires a sense of connection to the future; this song implies that only a sad connection to the past is possible.

Having a sense of connection to the future when one is dying does not have to involve religion, although of course it can. One other way is to be aware of leaving a legacy. Canadian psychiatrist Dr Harvey Max Chochinov and his colleagues have been researching how to help dying people. They have developed what they call “dignity therapy”. Part of this is helping dying people to see what they can leave as a legacy to those they love and to other people.

Anne’s legacy was in her students, represented by Alexandre. But she refused to listen to the CD he gave her of his critically acclaimed concert. She refused to allow hope to creep in, to have a moment of joy. In fact, a dominant feature of Amour is that there are no moments of joy.

I began this review saying I sat through Amour just wanting it to be over. Both dying people and those who love them can also feel that way about death. But wanting it to be over is very different from wanting to be killed and the impact of each – that is, allowing to die, as compared with killing – is very different at institutional, societal and even global levels.

Some people will see Amour as an argument for legalizing euthanasia. The strongest case for this is the situation in Amour - an individual who is suffering and dying and wants to die.

But we must also consider the effect of legalizing euthanasia on other people, especially the possibility of elder abuse; on the medical profession and medicine’s millennia-old guiding principle, “curing where possible, caring always, never killing”; on the law as a primary institution upholding the societal value of respect for life; on other healthcare professionals and healthcare institutions; and on society’s most important values, especially that of respect for life.

Amour brings to mind lines from Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem “Ulysses:

The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices.

It leaves us, however, with no sense that

Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;  
Death closes all: but something ere the end,  
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,  
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.

Margaret Somerville is director of the McGill Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law in Montreal. This article reprinted under a Creative Commons License from Mercatornet.



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Lisa Bourne

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Trump vows to push LGBT rights, hedges on pro-marriage litmus test

Lisa Bourne

CONCORD, New Hampshire, February 8, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) – Does Donald Trump support the gay agenda or oppose it? On the eve of the New Hampshire primary, observers are still scratching their heads about where the GOP frontrunner actually stands.

Trump has repeatedly and consistently said he supports the natural definition of marriage, but can a President Trump be relied on to promote it resolutely and cogently? It is this question that has many marriage activists expressing concern about his increasingly likely hold on the GOP nomination.

In fact, the National Organization for Marriage has gone so far as to say that Trump has “abandoned” the pro-marriage cause.

Trump himself underscored the problem on the weekend when he told a New Hampshire television station that from the White House he would push “equality” for homosexuals even further forward.

A cable news reporter self-identifying as a lesbian asked him last Thursday after a rally in Exeter, "When President Trump is in office, can we look for more forward motion on equality for gays and lesbians?"

“Well, you can and look - again, we're going to bring people together. That's your thing, and other people have their thing,” Trump told Sue O’Connell of New England Cable News. “We have to bring all people together. And if we don't, we're not gonna have a country anymore. It's gonna be a total mess.”

Following the comments, Trump appeared Sunday on ABC’s This Week program with George Stephanopoulos and would not commit to appointing Supreme Court justices who’d overturn Obergefell, though that would be his “preference.”

STORY: ‘Anyone but Donald Trump’: Here’s his record on life, marriage, and religious liberty

“We’re going to look at judges. They’ve got to be great judges. They’ve got to be conservative judges. We’re going to see how they stand depending on what their views are. But that would be my preference,” he told Stephanopoulos. “I would prefer that they stand against, but we’ll see what happens. It depends on the judge.”

Trump’s comments follow his statements during a Fox News Sunday interview last week, when he said, “If I'm elected, I would be very strong on putting certain judges on the bench that I think maybe could change things, but they've got a long way to go.” 

“[Marriage] should be a states rights issue,” Trump continued. “I can see changes coming down the line, frankly.” 

When asked by Fox if he “might try to appoint justices to overrule the decision on same-sex marriage,” Trump replied, “I would strongly consider that, yes.”

The real estate mogul criticized the Supreme Court for the Obergefell decision imposing homosexual “marriage” on all 50 states last June, but then later in August, Trump voiced support to NBC News for banning companies from firing employees on the basis of sexual orientation. “I don't think it should be a reason” to fire workers, he said at the time on Meet the Press.

The National Organization for Marriage (NOM) and a number influential evangelicals have endorsed Senator Ted Cruz in the race for president. The Texas senator has not only committed to appointing pro-marriage justices, but says the president and the states can rightly defy the “fundamentally illegitimate” ruling just as President Lincoln defied the Dred Scott decision.

NOM has also been highly critical of Trump, saying he has “abandoned” their cause. The organization said in its January 27 blog post just prior to the Iowa Caucus that “Donald Trump does not support a constitutional amendment to restore marriage to our laws. Worse, he has publicly abandoned the fight for marriage. When the US Supreme Court issued their illegitimate ruling redefining marriage, Trump promptly threw in the towel with these comments on MSNBC: ‘You have to go with it. The decision's been made, and that is the law of the land.’”

NOM had said the week before that Trump “has made no commitments to fight for marriage, or the rights of supporters of marriage to not be discriminated against and punished for refusing to go along with the lie that is same-sex 'marriage.'”

New Hampshire voters have been tracked as showing support for homosexual “marriage,” as a poll last February showed 52 percent of Republican NH primary voters saying opposing gay “marriage” is unacceptable.

The latest CNN/WMUR tracking poll shows that overall 33 percent of likely Republican primary voters support Trump, giving him a growing 17-point lead over the nearest GOP contender. RealClearPolitics polling average in the state puts him at 31.0 percent support, with Marco Rubio second at 14.7, John Kasich third at 13.2, and Ted Cruz fourth at 12.7.



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Greg Quinlan

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The unravelling of Chris Christie

Greg Quinlan

February 8, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) -- I'm a member of the clergy and for the past eight years have lobbied the powerful in Trenton, covering the administrations of both Governors Jon Corzine and Chris Christie.  I did much of my work on behalf of the New Jersey Family Policy Council, associated with Tony Perkins' Family Research Council.  I am currently the President of the Center for Garden State Families.

Those of us who are engaged in the fight to secure the right to believe, speak, and practice the Christian faith in America were all heartened by the election of a Pro-Life Governor in 2009.  Not only did Chris Christie run as an open Pro-Lifer, but he adopted a position in support of natural marriage in the course of the campaign.  And when legislative Democrats attempted to pass same-sex marriage in the lame duck session, so they could have outgoing Governor Corzine sign it into law, Chris Christie rallied opposition and stopped it.  Those were the early, hopeful days; but as Governor, Chris Christie has presented himself in an inconsistent, even scatterbrained way, often making decisions that go against earlier stated beliefs. 

One of his first decisions was to make a liberal Democrat the state's Attorney General.  Once approved by the Senate, and she was, the Attorney General could not be fired by the Governor, as was the case with other cabinet officers.  This gave a liberal Democrat enormous power and she used it to join up with liberal Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley in filing a brief against Christians in a case called Christian Legal Society v. Martinez.  Just one day after being sworn in, the newly appointed state Attorney General took the most aggressive legal posture available to defend former Governor Corzine’s one-gun-a-month handgun rationing law, moving to dismiss an NRA lawsuit to overturn the law, and later vigorously opposing the NRA’s motion for a preliminary injunction in the case.  Because of this appointment, New Jersey did not join in the lawsuits to overturn ObamaCare.

Governor Christie appointed a radical "sexologist" to run the NJ Department of Children & Families.  This appointee would later resign when it emerged that she had held the top job in an organization that had supported a study advocating the normalization of some forms of adult-child sex. 

His judicial appointments were also confusing.  While claiming to oppose same-sex marriage, Governor Christie nominated an openly gay Republican to the state Supreme Court who supported it.  Even Democrats wouldn't support this plainly unqualified appointment, and he never served.  The Governor supported the advancement of a liberal Democrat to the job of Chief Justice, while refusing to support the re-appointment of a Republican and the Court's most conservative member.  He also appointed a controversial defense attorney who had defended a number of Islamic extremists who had violated immigration law. 

In 2013, many of those in the Christian community opposed legislation that banned young people from receiving counseling and therapy to lead them away from homosexuality.  As an ex-gay myself, I could have personally attested to the benefits of such counseling, much of which is no different than what is found in contemporary twelve-step programs.  However, the Christian community opposing the ban was not afforded the opportunity to meet with the Governor.  Only the homosexual community with its pro-ban agenda was given that benefit.

Click "like" if you want to defend true marriage.

I don't blame the Governor for this, but I do blame his staff.  As President Ronald Reagan said, "personnel is policy," and  Governor Christie's choices in personnel have not advanced the policies he campaigned on, and often it was the direct opposite.   

New Jersey ended up being just the second state in the country that only allows young people to receive counseling that advocates homosexuality, but bans by law counseling that advocates heterosexuality. When he signed it into law, Governor Christie embraced the made-up "science" of the propagandists, when he cited un-specified "research" that "sexual orientation is determined at birth."  This is the so-called "gay-gene" trope that has baffled those engaged in the Science of Genetics because it has never been discovered.

As a candidate for Governor, Chris Christie talked the talk and raised the expectations of Christians in New Jersey. As Governor, and especially in his appointments, Christie undermined our confidence in his leadership. Christians should ask tough questions before extending our faith in him again.



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Center for Medical Progress lead investigator David Daleiden speaks at an event in Washington, DC, before the 2016 March for Life. Lisa Bourne / LifeSiteNews
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Pro-life investigator hits back with new footage after judge blocks release of abortion sting videos

Dustin Siggins Dustin Siggins Follow Dustin

SAN FRANCISCO, February 8, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) -- A new video from the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) shows two National Abortion Federation (NAF) employees saying that abortion clinics would be interested in kickbacks from profits on fetal tissue and body part sales.

The video comes three days after a San Francisco imposed an injunction sought by NAF against CMP videos that one of the abortion group's attorneys said meant that "NAF's members can sleep a little easier tonight."

CMP accused the pro-abortion organization of hiding behind the court.

According to U.S. District Court Judge William H. Orrick, however, NAF "made...a showing" that release of CMP videos would harm rights to privacy, freedom of association, and liberty of NAF members.

URGENT: Sign the petition to Harris County urging them to drop the charges against David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt. Click here.

"Critical to my decision are that the defendants agreed to injunctive relief if they breached the agreements and that, after the release of defendants’ first set of Human Capital Project videos and related information in July 2015, there has been a documented, dramatic increase in the volume and extent of threats to and harassment of NAF and its members," wrote Orrick.

Additionally, the judge found that CMP's videos “thus far have not been pieces of journalistic integrity, but misleadingly edited videos and unfounded assertions," and that nobody from the abortion industry “admitted to engaging in, agreed to engage in, or expressed interest in engaging in potentially illegal sale of fetal tissue for profit" in the CMP videos.

However, in a new video released today that is unrelated to the injunction, a NAF employee told undercover journalists that kickbacks "definitely [sound] like something some [of] our members would be really interested in," with another chiming in that money from private purchasers to abortion clinics were "a win-win" for clinics.

The undercover investigators, who had purported to be part of a biotechnology company with an interest in fetal parts, were offered the chance to be at a NAF conference. “We have an exhibit hall and then we also have the general conference. But I mean, this is a very great way to talk to our members. We have a group purchasing program through our membership,” the journalists were told. “So it seems like this would be a really great option to be able to offer our members, as well.”

This is the second ruling against CMP in recent weeks, and the second by Orrick since July. The San Francisco judge issued a restraining order against CMP related to NAF's 2014 and 2015 meetings in San Francisco and Baltimore that Friday's ruling extended.

The other recent ruling came in the form of an indictment of CMP's David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt. Merritt and Daleiden turned themselves into Houston authorities for booking and processing last week. After being released on bail, Daleiden spoke at a LifeSiteNews/Christian Defense Coalition press conference after which more than 100,000 petition signatures backing Daleiden were dropped off to the Harris County, Texas District Attorney's office.

According to Orrick, who says he reviewed the more than 500 hours of recordings from CMP, "It should be said that the majority of the recordings lack much public interest, and despite the misleading contentions of defendants, there is little that is new in the remainder of the recordings. Weighed against that public interest are NAF’s and its members’ legitimate interests in their rights to privacy, security, and association by maintaining the confidentiality of their presentations and conversations at NAF Annual Meetings. The balance is strongly in NAF’s favor.”

NAF did not respond to a request for comment about the allegations by Orrick and a NAF spokesperson that CMP's videos have caused threats and other security concerns against NAF members.



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