Mozart's funeral concludes the primary action of the movie. We then return to the asylum, where the priest looks utterly ravaged, as though he's taken a tour through hell--which, in a way, he has. Salieri continues by explaing that as the years continued he heard his music fade out entirely, while Mozart's grew more and more acclaimed. He finally proclaims himself the patron saint of mediocrity as the film concludes.
The ending leaves us with a fairly pathetic image of Salieri. However, the key question, the question that got us interested in him in the first place, has never been answered--why did he try to kill himself? Was it due to a guilty conscience? Possible, but nothing he says during the course of the film suggests that. We're left hanging. In the play, though, we have no such equivocation. We find out exactly what Salieri's game is, and the truth is devastating.
Salieri explains that while he enjoyed success and fame for a while--during the play he is promoted to Royal Kapelmeister to Franz Joseph--that fame was empty. He finaly knows the revenge God has chosen for him:
I was to be bricked up in fame! Embalmed in fame! Buried in fame--but for work I knew to be absolutely worthless! This was my sentence: I must endure thirty years of being called "Distinguished" by people incapable of distinguishing! . . . And finally--His masterstroke! When my nose had been rubbed in fame to vomiting--it would all be taken away from me. Every scrap. I must survive to see myself become extinct! When they trundled me out in a carriage to get my last award, a man on the curb said, "Isn't that one of the generals from Waterloo?" Mozart's music sounded louder and louder through the world! And mine faded completely, till no one played it at all!
But unlike the Salieri of the movie, Salieri hasn't given up yet. He finally reveals his final gambit against God. He has spent the last several weeks crying out that he killed Mozart, making the question the talk of Vienna. His suicide note is a confession, explaining how he poisoned Mozart with arsenic, and simply can't live with the guilt anymore.
By tonight they'll hear out there how I dies--and they'll believe it's true! . . . Let them forget me then. For the rest of time whenever men say Mozart with love, they will say Salieri with loathing . . . I am going to be immortal after all!! And He is powerless to prevent it. . . .
Now I go to become a ghost myself. I will stand in the shadows when you come here to this earth in your turns. And when you feel the dreadful bite of your failure--and hear the taunting of unachievable, uncaring God--I will whisper my name to you: Salieri: Patron Saint of Mediocrities!" And in the depth of your downcastness you can pray to me. And I will absolve you. Vi Saluto.
With that, in front of the audience, Salieri cuts his throat.
But God won't allow such a victory. He does not dies after all, and we start to hear the gossip of Vienna about his attempt and his confession. We finally hear the verdict: "No one believes it in the world!" Salieri rises one last time to address us: "Mediocrities everywhere--now and to come--I absolve you all! Amen."
Salieri's gambit hits us with the force of a shotgun blast. Because we have identified with him so closely at the beginning of the play, we are all the more horrified. Here is a monster, all right--but a human monster.