3.5.2 The use of symbols
There are many symbolic elements in both the play and the film, starting with the very name Amadeus, which Shaffer chose both for its romantic sound and for its allegorical value. Aside from that, there are also many visual images, which carry various meanings. Another interesting element is the use and role of masks throughout the plot. Shaffer was inspired to use this device by Mozart's operas:
[...] it is remarkable how dependent all these operas are upon masks and disguises. Both Mozart and Lorenzo da Ponte, his librettist, appear to have had an almost obsessive interest in their use. (Shaffer 1984, 38)
Masks play an important role in Shaffer's plays, and also in the film version of Amadeus. Salieri's plan to murder Mozart is based on the use of a disguise, which leads Mozart to believe that his father has risen from the dead. When Leopold Mozart arrives in Vienna, he is wearing a long black cloak. Later, at a masquerade, he adds to this a black double-faced mask with a tricorn hat, one side of it smiling, the other side frowning. In a scene at the masquerade, we see that Mozart cannot distinguish the mask from reality. He is laughing delightedly over Constanze's penalty in a game of forfeits, which consists of showing her legs to the guests. Suddenly he sees the back of his father's head with the mask frowning at him, and his laughter is immediately stifled. When his father turns around and faces him with the smiling part of the mask, Mozart starts to laugh in relief. Thereupon, Leopold takes off the mask and we can see that he is really frowning underneath. Again, Mozart's laughter dies away. From then on, this sombre costume remains associated with Leopold and later serves Salieri, who has observed the incident, as a way to manipulate his victim. Another symbol of Leopold is his portrait, staring coldly at Mozart from the salon wall. The portrait seems to observe every move of Mozart and to disapprove of him just as Leopold did when he was still alive.
At the masquerade, Mozart is wearing a mask in the shape of a unicorn's head, which is a symbol of his male potency and a subtle allusion to the stylised horse masks worn in Equus. Together with the mask, Mozart's giggle sounds like a horse's neighing. Constanze is disguised as a beautiful swan, which underlines her light-heartedness and vanity. Salieri is not wearing a disguise, but only covering his face with a black eye-mask, in accordance with his simple, almost ascetic lifestyle.
Throughout the film, Salieri is symbolised by the colour black. He has black hair, while Mozart's hair is blond. The keyboard of his fortepiano has the black and white keys reversed. He always wears a small, dark wig, as opposed to most other people in the film. He dresses in plain black or dark clothes, and he even wears black stockings, although white stockings are fashionable. This colour symbolism serves to associate him with evil forces, not necessarily with the devil, but with the dark battle against God that he is fighting within his mind. He stands for darkness, and Mozart stands for divine light. While confessing his crime to the hospital priest, Salieri expertly spits on a candle and extinguishes it, just as he will later snuff out Mozart's flame. The wooden Christ on the cross is another symbol that constantly appears as Salieri's inscrutable partner in his dialogue with God.
Mozart, on the other hand, dresses in colourful coats and loves big, fanciful wigs. Yet, he is wearing a dark wig while conducting Don Giovanni, which symbolises his state of mind. Usually, though, he is shown as the eternal prodigy, the son remaining forever under his father's influence. This is underlined by Tom Hulce's shortness in comparison to the other actors, but also by his movements and the way that he is filmed. He always has to look up a little while talking to his respective counterpart, who is mostly standing stiffly and upright. He is only taller in relation to the immature and girlish Constanze.
The vicissitudes of Mozart's life in Vienna are symbolised by the seasons of the year. When Mozart is in his prime and still in the Emperor's favour, it is summer and the sun is shining constantly. However, when he is impoverished and has no money for heating, it is winter and the streets are covered by snow. Returning from a drinking spree, he keeps slipping on the frozen streets, and when he comes home, he finds it cold and empty, Constanze having left for the spa in Baden. The cold and the snow symbolise a bleak and depressing period in Mozart's life.
Finally, the mental hospital to which Salieri is brought after his suicide attempt is a reverberation of Forman's famous One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Another echo of that film is Salieri's valet, a bit part performed by Vincent Schiavelli who plays one of the patients in Cuckoo's Nest.