Back to black: Amour and Amy

One movie … every night … for the next year …

Two pretty confronting movies the past two nights: Amour and Amy. Both of them devastating, and both very similar in their depiction of the slow degradation of health and life and love.

The first is a French movie, superbly written, acted and directed, that depicts the slow decline of a woman following a stroke, and the trauma it inflicts on her, her husband, and their marriage. No happy endings here. It’s French, remember. It’s such a compelling movie though, mainly because of how well the two leads show the devastating creep of sickness and death on their walled off life together. It’s called Amour (Love) but it’s really about the agonising impact on love of ageing, and also the decisions brought about by love that are inevitable but also tragic. This is love strained and brutalised, battered and throttled. For all that, it’s not a tough watch. Olivia stayed to the very end, which was a surprise. It’s a testament to how good it is.

Amy tells a similar story. The tragedy of this though is that it’s true and that it happened to one of those rare talents. Made by the brilliant Asif Kapadia (who did the superb Senna), Amy tells the story of Amy Winehouse, someone whose talent became a curse, stuck in a moment that ravaged her personally and caused her own slow, humiliating and tragic decline. There are multiple ways of storying what happened to Winehouse … drug addiction, alcoholism, the husband’s role, the father’s complicity … all of these are present in the documentary, but treated with Kapadia’s careful touch. He blames everyone and no one. The true villain is Amy’s talent itself—as if the divine has dumped a disproportionate amount of giftedness on a diminutive figure whose situation in life couldn’t prepare her for how to survive beneath it. It was consuming Amy even as it made her a “star”. Resonances with Senna here. And the same tragic end.

There is still power in Winehouse’s music. My favourite moments in Amy are those brief shots of her recording or scratching new lyrics. She really was something else.

I harbour a hope about the Christian idea of resurrection. It’s a fancy more than a theology. It’s that the likes of Amy Winehouse, and Jeff Buckley, music’s titans who left us too soon, will get to make music again one day. If there’s a God, and if God is the author of art and creativity and the resurrection life is about those things finally being unfettered, then I think it’s only fair we get to hear them again.

Both movies resonate with the idea that while love is experienced in this world, it doesn’t originate here and it doesn’t really belong here. It’s an aberration, it’s anachronistic. The world is too dark and too broken to accommodate love well. Love between people is like a stylus skating across a record, sometimes finding the groove and producing incredible tunes, but for the most part screeching like nails on a blackboard and damaging the surface forever.