Geeky Cinephile Musings…
I don't pontificate, I blather.

I’ve just had a literary baby. Thunk.

THIS ENTIRE POST IS A SPOILER.  DON’T SAY I DIDN’T WARN YOU.

Before we begin, allow me to digress about a topic that we haven’t begun speaking about yet. 

This post…well…almost novel at this point…has been the most difficult contribution to this blog to date.  Lars Von Trier is unquestionably my favorite director now.  That is a huge statement for me, as my love of so many directors runs so deep.  But Von Trier has done it this time.  I have NEVER been so moved by a film.  Ever.  For that reason, what I thought was going to be another “blathering” about a film has led me to hours of thinking, restless nights, and driving Paul crazy with my philosophical questionings about depression vs. melancholia, female energy being of the earth, etc etc ad nauseum ad nauseum.  So sitting down and jotting off a short blurb just. doesn’t. cut it.  There are too many eureka! moments, gloriously close and yet frustratingly far away, that keep popping up and leaving me staring off into space, with a bit of drool slowly gathering on my slack lips.  I keep having to EDIT, for God’s sake, when anyone who knows me knows that I do not edit this blog—I usually just vomit it all out and check the spelling.  Presto, change, you have an author!! But not this time.  Sigh.  This was downright laborious. 

But enough of that! Let’s just dive right in!

The definition of melancholy according to Webster’s

 (NO WAIT WAIT!! Come back here! Jeeeez, you’re impatient! Just gimme a minute, I promise this is going somewhere!)

is:

1.  An abnormal state attributed to an excess of black bile (eeeewwwww!!!) & characterized by irascibility & depression.

2.  A depression of spirits.  A pensive mood.

Well! Sounds right up the good ol’ Lars Von Trier alley, right?!

Hmm…not this time.

I’m sure many people think that to be melancholy is an unwelcome thing—thanks in part to that pesky “definition” thing…and yes, the black bile does evoke an unpleasant image, true.  Perhaps they imagine someone morosely staring out of window, eyes flat and dead, lost in their own misery, missing out on life.  But I wholeheartedly disagree.  That is depression.  Melancholia is different.  To me, Webster definition be damned, melancholy is directly attributable to an overly intense love of beauty—a love so intense and overwhelming that it makes daily occurrences seem secondary—as opposed to outright depression, which conjures a deeper, blacker, heavier place, where nothing touches you.  Melancholy wants desperately to connect.  Depression wants nothing.

I’ve heard of the Stendahl Syndrome, (also an Argento film!) where a person is so moved by the beauty of a work of art that they swoon and can become violently ill, experiencing rapid heartbeat, dizziness, and malaise.  The definition I found on Wikipedia states that “the term can also be used to describe a similar reaction to a surfeit of choice in other circumstances, e.g. when confronted with immense beauty in the natural world.” So the two terms are linked in my mind, although melancholia is chronic.  I feel that those who have melancholia are often the same way—intensely moved by their natural surroundings.  This is not a negative thing.  Yes, it is possible to become inhibited by it, because the wave of feeling can make you unable to process other life forms beyond yourself and the trees, the grass, the sky, that hawk overhead.  But on the other hand, you feel everything so exquisitely.  Ultimately, however, the dichotomy of having such a strong connection and yet such a total disconnect at the same time is what brings on the sadness.  The ultimate douleur exquise

Such is the beginning of Melancholia, which is actually the end.  Yes, planet IS going to pulverize the earth, but that’s not the point. 

I'm gonna getcha sucka!!

Von Trier starts this way to say, “Yes, everyone’s going to die, so get over that now, so I can show you THIS!” He uses this same tactic in the beginning of Antichrist, when the child dies.  For Von Trier, the heart of the matter is the base nature of the characters, which takes center stage.  The actual occurrences in the film, which on their own would be major plot points in other films, are secondary.  Are ya gettin’ what I’m throwing down in the beginning now?? The very essence of melancholy is how he has set up this film! Nature is primary, quotidian occurrences are secondary.  Whether he meant to do it or not, I see the parallels, and it just…punctured…my brain…

But let’s keep going! 

In Antichrist, it was females and males as they relate to nature and emotion, rather than the tragic death of their only child.  In Melancholia, it is a melancholy soul (Justine/Kirsten Dunst) vs. a giving, everyday-life-loving soul (Claire/Charlotte Gainsbourg), rather than the fact that they’re all going to be blasted into nothingness by a rogue planet. 

So here we are, at the beginning of this wonderful, gorgeous, stupendous film (can you tell I liked it?).  For well over five minutes, but for what felt like an hour, we see the main characters at different stages of their final hours, moving in agonizingly slow motion.  Again, this was all perfectly mirrored in Antichrist.  I’m curious what purpose it serves for Von Trier to use the slo-mo/violins/snow falling effect in the beginning of these two films.  For me, it serves to force me to utterly surrender to what’s to come next.  It’s a preparation for the narrative somehow.  You don’t get to have the easy, predictable start of a “normal” film, with dialogue or a montage setup that neatly packages much of what you need to know in the first thirty seconds.  Nope.  You get to sit there and watch exactly what he WANTS you to watch, and not all of it fits together or makes sense, either chronological or otherwise.  Nope, just sit there for an uncomfortably long time and FEEL THIS BEAUTY. 

And feel it I did. All of the colors are too brilliant—everything is like a vivid, moving painting with super high contrast.  The green of the grass isn’t just any old green—it’s kelly green, the brightest of all greens.  The soundtrack is a lush violin symphony, blowing and whirling—it is lovely, but it is painfully loud, and it’s so overwhelming, and you feel like you’re just going to explode if it doesn’t just STOP soon, oh please make it STOP, but no don’t stop because it’s making me lose myself in it and I almost feel like I’m about to realize something—just STOP STOP.  And then.  Silence.  And the story begins.

As I watch Melancholia, what keeps going through my mind is “Yes, yes! I know this!! That’s it! That’s it!” I’ve never considered myself a melancholic person, but after watching this film I realize that I am.  I also realized that my definition of melancholy has changed, or rather, my judgment of it.  I’m especially fascinated by what Von Trier seems to be continuously exploring in terms of females and nature and chaos.  Those of you who watched Antichrist (and were subsequently traumatized) will know what I mean.  I would tend to agree with him, and I fully embrace the idea of our own special, brooding love of beauty.  Females have a certain connection with the earth, with its magic, mystery and chaotic nature, that men just do not often seem to have.  Why, I’m not sure, but I feel it, therefore it is.  😉  Is that why women are often muses but men never are?

At any rate, it’s this connection with the earth that Justine manifests.  She welcomes Melancholia and the destruction it will bring. She keeps escaping outside to look at the shining brightness of the moon and piss on the grass to escape the dreadfulness of being amongst the drudgery of a formal wedding party.  She’d stay out there all night if only her family would let her.  She goes to the tree, naked, and lays there in the moonlight, giving all of herself to the night sky and her oncoming death.  This is the same image that is used with Charlotte Gainsbourg’s character, simply titled “She” in Antichrist, although that character’s depth of grief forced her to take more vicious and permanent measures. 

Von Trier has tapped something here in the female.  Having grown up endlessly digging through and comparing emotions with other women, I know it’s safe to say this.  THIS IS what women are like, and I feel it’s a joyous representation of our sex.  How anyone could’ve ever thought this man was a misogynist is beyond me.  What’s even more endearing is that he based Justine on himself.  Much the way Justine faces Melancholia with a steady eye and a calmness, I found myself wistfully thinking as the blue planet came closer and closer that this would be a wonderful way for the earth to die—all of us together, all of us looking at this death with open eyes, no one left to mourn, no real unhappiness because it just is what it is–it’s just inevitable that we’re all going to die in an instant.  Paul, on the other hand, was intensely saddened by the thought of all of us being wiped out.  As I type this, I find that I cannot properly explain how I feel.  I don’t want the earth to end, but sometimes I do want to go back to square one—the big bang in reverse.  Cells become atoms become particles, and so on. 

I should’ve titled this essay “Von Trier and his commentary on females and males, as explained by similarities between Antichrist and Melancholia.”  Why not? It’s catchy.  For brevity’s sake (I know, right—who am I KIDDING?), I’ll list a couple points pertaining to that here:

  • Jack (Stellan Skarsgard) spends the entire wedding reception hungrily trying to rip a piece of Justine’s creativity out of her for his own gain, while at the same time obviously disdaining females. 
  • Michael (Alexander Skarsgard) loves her for her creativity and depth of feeling as well, but ultimately wants to harness it, capture it, control it, own it, and worship it whenever he wants to.  This reminds me of Willem Dafoe’s character, “He,” in Antichrist, as he keeps trying to force  “She” to logistically work through and suffocate her wild sadness, against her very nature.
  • John (Keifer Sutherland) constantly nagging Claire about her “irrational” fear of Melancholia’s path towards the earth.  He chastises her vehemently for buying suicidal pills for the family, but then selfishly and cowardly takes them all himself, leaving Claire and her small son, Leo (Cameron Spurr), to die alone when he realizes their fate.  

The only male who doesn’t seem to exhibit misogynist behavior is Claire & Justine’s father, Dexter (John Hurt), but thanks to his drunkenness and abandonment of Justine when she needs him most, even he comes off as a rather pathetic soul, despite his quick wit and romantic tendencies.  None of these characters are particularly sympathetic, including Justine herself, as she can be incredibly cruel to her sister (again, Antichrist comes a knockin’: female = nature = chaos = cruelty)and yet they’re all extremely sympathetic.  You hate them for what they are and feel very sorry for them all the same, for they are folks you know and love yourself, put to an extreme.

As I begin to finally wrap this up, I’m left with lingering questions.  What role does Gaby (Charlotte Rampling) play in all this, really? Her appearance is so short, and yet we recognize that she holds a tremendous sway over that family.  I felt like there was a loose end there.  Also, I really, really wish I could sit down and hammer out this whole female=nature=chaos=cruelty point with Von Trier himself.  It fascinates me, yet it’s pretty vast in terms of a subject, so there’s no way to fully explore it in a blog.  Rather, I’d do better to just get a doctorate in women’s studies and then writing my final thesis on that topic.  And would it even be answered then? It feels neverending.

Speaking of endings (oho, that was clunky!), when the film was over, and everyone was deceased (in the film, not the theater), it was only when the lights slowly came up that I started to breathe again.  And I began to cry.  Seriously.  I didn’t want it to end—it was just so incredibly beautiful.  Even the pervasive, low frequency, primal, rumbling that runs practically the entire length of the film—heralding Melancholia’s impending visit—I missed that too, and the flips it was giving my stomach.  Isn’t that funny though? A film about depression made me feel very happy. 

At one point in the film, Jack says to Claire, “Melancholia is going to pass right by us, and it’s going to be the most beautiful sight ever.”  Indeed.

Wee bits o’ fun:

The Nuart theater kindly obliged us all by making the lights flicker violently when the screen went black, as though we were about to all die too.  Awesome!

I saw Philip Baker Hall sitting about five rows ahead of me!!!! Double Awesome!!

 Amanda De Cadenet, former British “It” girl, was also there. Um…I don’t know her! But Paul did, so Triple Awesome!!!

 While I was waiting in the concession line, I saw that the Nuart was selling Don’t Go In The Woods…Alone!! on DVD, so I bought it with my diet coke! Awesome times infinity!!!!!

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6 Responses to “I’ve just had a literary baby. Thunk.”

  1. You really are a very good writer, Cuz. You write very much the way I did when I was your age. Fortunately, I got work in a medium that required that I repeatedly fit a complete thought into 35 words or fewer. I had a tough cranky editor from the time I was 20 and well into my 30’s, so consequently I never developed the inner editor of my live pronouncements that most people grow in their 20s. I grew up to be a 60-year-old who can’t keep his mouth shut.

    All in all, maybe you should keep up the unedited stream of consciousness in print (it did prompt me to want to see Melancholia after all, spoilers or not) so life goes more smoothly later on.

  2. I agree–stream of consciousness is ususally best. No prententions or inhibitions allowed. Just sit down and plunk it out. Audience, spelling, grammar, and cohesiveness be damned. 🙂

  3. Just watched a matinee at the New Beverly of Melancholia. Round two, ding ding!! And yes, I cried at the beginning and the end…again. That movie is just. AMAZING. I’m going to write an elaborate love letter to Von Trier. Sigh. Dreamy man.

  4. […] at a brick wall. And we have another Von Trier hat-trick: a night-time scene with the snow falling, just as we had in Antichrist and Melancholia. But the big difference here is that, rather than using string music as a soundtrack, we have street […]

  5. This is quite seriously the most depressing film I’ve ever seen. Needed an extra shot of Wellbutrin all that week. I don’t really know what I was like when I first left the theater but when it came on Showtime not long ago I made a note of it on Facebook and my friend with whom I first saw it years ago wrote, “Click ‘OFF.’ Now back slowly away from the screen and leave the room.”

    Good advice, that.

  6. Why did it upset you so much? What about it touched something that dark in you?


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