Melancholia

26 Nov

This movie manages to accomplish what Byron’s Darkness does. But more. And it lingers like Darkness – hypnotic, gorgeous, even peaceful images of destruction and earthly extinction– Melancholia captures the essence of this kind of beauty.

The main character, Justine (played by Kirsten Dunst in the best performance of her career – as though she is channeling a mature Lux from Virgin Suicides), experiences a kind of melancholia that is debilitating in normal life,  but when the sky actually is falling, she is serene and it’s the other characters, who are adept at normal life, who now can not cope and she becomes the stable force in the final moments in a way that feels earned and true to life.

Although I am completely taken with this film, it is a hard movie to recommend. Besides the fact that the director (Lars von Trier) says that he sympathizes with Hitler, and says of the film–  “A woman’s film!  I feel ready to reject the film like a wrongly transplanted organ,”  the response one has to the film is very individual. If you like Bergman and Picnic at Hanging Rock – which are my loves, this movie is for you.  If you dislike psychodrama and symbolism (symbolically, as the planet Melancholia approaches earth, it begins to suck up the atmosphere which makes it more difficult to breathe)  you will probably find this film torturous.

The most interesting and long lasting effect the film has had on me is a pretty major shift in spacial perception. The best way I can describe it is– as a human you have a sense of space as you are in motion. When you learn to ride a bicycle, you have a sense of space that is the size of the bicycle, your perception of yourself as a moving unit adjusts to that size. When you drive a car, your sense of space and your idea of how big you are adjusts. And I would imagine that is the same for all vehicles. After Melancholia, as I move, when I walk outside and look at the sky– my spacial perception, my emotional unit, is planetary.

J. Hope Stein

Darkness
I had a dream, which was not all a dream.
The bright sun was extinguish’d, and the stars
Did wander darkling in the eternal space,
Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth
Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air;
Morn came and went–and came, and brought no day,
And men forgot their passions in the dread
Of this their desolation; and all hearts
Were chill’d into a selfish prayer for light:
And they did live by watchfires–and the thrones,
The palaces of crowned kings–the huts,
The habitations of all things which dwell,
Were burnt for beacons; cities were consum’d,
And men were gather’d round their blazing homes
To look once more into each other’s face;
Happy were those who dwelt within the eye
Of the volcanos, and their mountain-torch:
A fearful hope was all the world contain’d;
Forests were set on fire–but hour by hour
They fell and faded–and the crackling trunks
Extinguish’d with a crash–and all was black.
The brows of men by the despairing light
Wore an unearthly aspect, as by fits
The flashes fell upon them; some lay down
And hid their eyes and wept; and some did rest
Their chins upon their clenched hands, and smil’d;
And others hurried to and fro, and fed
Their funeral piles with fuel, and look’d up
With mad disquietude on the dull sky,
The pall of a past world; and then again
With curses cast them down upon the dust,
And gnash’d their teeth and howl’d: the wild birds shriek’d
And, terrified, did flutter on the ground,
And flap their useless wings; the wildest brutes
Came tame and tremulous; and vipers crawl’d
And twin’d themselves among the multitude,
Hissing, but stingless–they were slain for food.
And War, which for a moment was no more,
Did glut himself again: a meal was bought
With blood, and each sate sullenly apart
Gorging himself in gloom: no love was left;
All earth was but one thought–and that was death
Immediate and inglorious; and the pang
Of famine fed upon all entrails–men
Died, and their bones were tombless as their flesh;
The meagre by the meagre were devour’d,
Even dogs assail’d their masters, all save one,
And he was faithful to a corse, and kept
The birds and beasts and famish’d men at bay,
Till hunger clung them, or the dropping dead
Lur’d their lank jaws; himself sought out no food,
But with a piteous and perpetual moan,
And a quick desolate cry, licking the hand
Which answer’d not with a caress–he died.
The crowd was famish’d by degrees; but two
Of an enormous city did survive,
And they were enemies: they met beside
The dying embers of an altar-place
Where had been heap’d a mass of holy things
For an unholy usage; they rak’d up,
And shivering scrap’d with their cold skeleton hands
The feeble ashes, and their feeble breath
Blew for a little life, and made a flame
Which was a mockery; then they lifted up
Their eyes as it grew lighter, and beheld
Each other’s aspects–saw, and shriek’d, and died–
Even of their mutual hideousness they died,
Unknowing who he was upon whose brow
Famine had written Fiend. The world was void,
The populous and the powerful was a lump,
Seasonless, herbless, treeless, manless, lifeless–
A lump of death–a chaos of hard clay.
The rivers, lakes and ocean all stood still,
And nothing stirr’d within their silent depths;
Ships sailorless lay rotting on the sea,
And their masts fell down piecemeal: as they dropp’d
They slept on the abyss without a surge–
The waves were dead; the tides were in their grave,
The moon, their mistress, had expir’d before;
The winds were wither’d in the stagnant air,
And the clouds perish’d; Darkness had no need
Of aid from them–She was the Universe.

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3 Responses to “Melancholia”

  1. mariateutsch December 4, 2011 at 9:18 pm #

    It’s funny that I am just reading this now since I am on a personal crusade to get people to watch this movie. My son went and watched it last night. We picked him up late and came home and we all three layed on the couch and fell asleep, in front of the fire. He held my hand as he slept while my husband was holding onto my foot. I was floating in this space of love that is rare. I think the movie had an effect on my son’s needing to hold on, even if he didn’t consciously admit it, as a teenager, they rarely admit to anything that could be deemed emotional.
    What I loved about the movie, was not so much the beautiful art tableaux, or the music that was super-dramatic as only Wagner can be, but more about the genius of the vision. How the universe became this other character in the piece, at once menacing and, for Justine, comforting. My son’s two favorite scenes: where she is laying naked in a kind of pagan ritual to the planet, and also, the bathtub scene, where her inability to function is hard to watch.
    And she definitely deserved the best actress award she received at Cannes, even if Lars Von Trier did his usual “I don’t give a fuck what others think speech” with regard to his pretended sympathies with Hitler.
    He is a mad genius.

  2. ----- December 6, 2011 at 3:18 pm #

    you are the only person I know who has seen the movie. I saw it alone and I am needing to talk about many aspects of it.

    that description of you and your family sleeping on the couch is so powerful. and vivd- I can totally picture it, especially because I’ve slept on that couch!

    i love the naked scene outside. because she wouldn’t take her clothes off for her husband. but she would for melancholia.

  3. Albie December 5, 2013 at 7:18 am #

    You might want to check out Bright Star by Jane Campion, another film with a goal towards poetry within film. It is quite similar to Melancholia in this regard.

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