How long will life survive on planet Earth? You’ve seen the action movies where the bad guy threatens to destroy it. But what if the end is more metaphysical? Like in Lars von Trier’s ‘Melancholia’.
The enormous (blue) planet headed for Earth, fearing threatening to destroy all life. Depressed Justine (Kirsten Dunst) is totally at peace with the end. To her, life has no special meaning anyway and the world is a disgusting, terrible place. Not for her sister, Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) though. She’s strongly devastated by the idea that there might be no future… As you can clearly see – von Trier built his story on the principle of contrast. It’s perversity is contained in the conclusion – melancholia is ambiguous, even paradoxical and turns out to have the power of doing the rescuing.
The title of the movie refers to the long tradition of research on the subject of melancholy and melancholic character/personality. Julia Kristva’s book ‘Black Sun’ is a particularly important point of reference here. The author makes a careful study of depressed subjectivity, of which Justine is a perfect embodiment. We are facing here with a character that is deprived of the possibility of symbolization, affected by the disappearance of the will, marked by stigma of tormented body. She has to deal with the not-possible to tell pain, which sets the boundaries of her world. Justine’s despair doesn’t have any creative potential (even in a negative meaning) – she is not capable of desire. Mechanisms of working through trauma can’t work out. She experiences a permanent lack, which should be understood as unsatisfied existence. Justine feels the loss before it occurs. She deconstructs the belief in creative potential of suffering. Melancholia is the kind of misery from which only impotence can arise. That’s why we can describe Justine as a representation of emptiness in a trance.
Justine lives in the world spread out between nothingness and triviality but, what’s interesting, she is not anemic. On the stage of the theatre of everyday life, she seems to be a romantic actress. Horror loci, which she is experiencing, quite paradoxically wakes up violence. She is constantly performing hysterical dissatisfaction.
The whole movie seems to be plunged in the abyss of sorrow (images that are drowning in the blue, rain of dead birds…). The aesthetics of the film is therefore justified in its content. Lars von Trier plays with the convention of catastrophic cinema. The story of the end of the world is settled in the psycho-philosophical context. Disaster becomes a concept that could belong to the terminology of psychoanalysis. In ‘Melancholia’ dramas plays out on two parallel planes: purely narrative (linear narrative sequence of cause and effect) and metaphorical (existential, beyond time and space).
To get to the end let’s go back to the beginning. The first sequence is a string of absurd images. Von Trier seems to be against treating art as a reflection of reality. He makes conventionality visible. The opening scene is also a surreal variation on the theme of the whole movie. It’s a specific prelude and ‘the story in a nutshell’, which looks like a nod to the visual culture, and to the intertextual poetics. Von Trier knows how to emphasise the power of visual metaphors.