Melancholia is split into two narratives: Claire and Justine. Each narrative was guided not by character but by their emotional diseases. Their personalities were lost and replaced by pure emotion, which is what makes this movie melodramatic and in turn, anti-sublime. In Steven Shaviro’s “Melancholia or, The Romantic Anti-Sublime” he discusses camera usage and recurring themes throughout the film. In keeping with his article sections, I will provide summaries of each subject separately.
Melancholia, according to the New York Times, “described by Freud as “a profoundly painful dejection, cessation of interest in the outside world, loss of the capacity to love, inhibition of all activity, and a lowering of the self-regarding feelings to a degree that finds utterance in self-reproaches and self-revilings, and culminates in a delusional expectation of punishment.”
1.) Cosmic and Melodrama – Thought it’s apocalyptic, it’s not a disaster film. The end of the world films that we are used to usually include a giant natural disaster of an ape takeover, but Melancholia is different. Director Lars von Trier purposefully chose the anti-sublime route that was lines with melodrama.
One of Shaviro’s main terms in this section was “Capitalist Realism”. In normal disaster movies use the apocalypse or other major disasters as a way out of debt, but Melancholia is showing the other side. The wealthy have worked hard to get their commodities and money that they couldn’t imagine living without it which in the end is showcased by John’s suicide. He discredits Earth’s impending doom, but when he finds out that Melancholia is going to crash, his suicide takes place off screen (another instance of the anti-sublime).
2.) Tableaux –Prologue is anti-narrative which is an 8 minute long sequence of 16 shots of a fixed camera view. It’s foreshadowing of what’s going to happen throughout the film with CGI powers that the rest of the film doesn’t contain adding to its anti-sublime restrains.It presents the themes that will be alluded to later. For example, the image in which Justine is running in her wedding dress, but tree roots are slowing her down. Nature is holding her back: She can’t escape or submit.
Amanda is not the only one to feel this way, Shaviro describe the rapid camera movement in relation to a camera suffering from ADD.
Shaviro said that “There is no functional reason for these movements,” (Shaviro). The movie was filmed to have a pseudo documentary feel to it. The background music was nonexistent except during the Prologue. Which is probably why Adrianna’s tweet was as follows:
3.) Post Continuity –The camera is in the midst of the action – not identified with any of the protagonists. It blurs the line between the action of the camera and the movement of the actors and the movement of the frame
4.) Depression -Depression = rejection of social norms
Justine is unable to comply with the social norms of the bourgeois society, so she acts out in progressively more disruptive ways. The depression is embodied within her character. Many see it as a minor condition that someone cannot just ‘get over’. Von Trier, someone who has suffered from depression, employs the melodrama to know the intrinsic aspects of the disease and emphasize that it’s not self-destructive.
This portion of the article reminded me of Silver Linings Playbook in which David O. Russell produced the movie for his son. He wanted to showcase bipolar disorder in a way that would make his son realize that he was not alone in the disease and it isn’t something that he should be embarrassed by. It was also a way to show viewers the depth of the disease and how it affects people.
5.) The Despair of Claire – Claire is the rich housewife, who is “consumed by domesticity”. She is constantly trying to uphold family values and the high class life until the very end. She is trying to restore the world to what she knows it to be in the hopes of finding solid ground, but as the film progresses she continues to lose control eventually leaving Justine to care for her son Leo.
Justine is beyond the point of worrying because to her, the world is already over because the depression manifested inside of her making living/dying irrelevant. It’s her depression that keeps her from feeling the impending doom because it’s a feeling that she is already familiar with. The first half of the film showcases Justine’s depression and psychological state while the second half showcases the inflated “objective correlative of her state before Earth’s destruction (Shaviro).
6.) Anti-modernism –
- Form does not equal function – Excess of pictures during the Prologue with a shaky, non-focused camera throughout.
- Form cannot be expressive in its own right. Everything works together to create the content. Nothing stands alone.
- Contains cliché’s, but they add to the melodrama
Each aspect of the film is over the top, extending beyond normal film form. The rejection of modernism is dramatized throughout the narrative.
Modernist films are using their edge – more of a marketing scheme as opposed to rebellion. Melancholia is rebelling against the rebellion of the classic film.
Melodramas are anti-modernist because there are excess emotions, sentimental, histrionic, cliché, trivial domestic situations, female protagonists dubbing it a “women’s film”.
In Marta Figlerowicz’s essay,” Comedy of Abandon: Lars von Trier’s Melancholia”, she argues that the melodrama goes so far that it becomes comedic; a play on the extremity of human emotions. I found her argument fascinating, but held less factual instances than Shaviro’s paper. I think that Figlerowicz has a potentially good argument, I wouldn’t say that it was the director’s intention (not that I could say that anyways).
7.) Gender – Lars von Trier is known for making his female leads suffer. He is known as a masochistic and sadistic director who creates passive female leads in order to watch them suffer. Melancholia is filled with gender stereotypes, but they seem to only be true on the surface. According to Shaviro, men are painted as reasonable and active while women are passive and emotional.
Throughout the film, John pretends to have power but besides being ostentatious, he holds no real decision making power. Kills himself when he finds out his death is inevitable, but could it be interpreted as his final act of control? He is the breadwinner of the family while Claire stays at home, but Claire holds more power than she seems to. John’s assertive personality seems to overshadow Claire in the first half, but does he really hold the power? Not according to Shaviro. Instead Melancholia, devalues male authority and Justine rebels against the social norms, which women should submit to.
8.) The Truth of Extinction –
- World-for-us = “The world we live in”
- World-in-itself = world as it exists apart from us
- World-without-us = speculative world that only exists in the limits of our mind
Justine tells Claire “we’re alone. Life exists only on Earth. And not for long.” She can only speak this way because she is distanced from herself and the situation because of the depression, otherwise, they wouldn’t be able to discuss world-without-us because it’s such an inhuman experience.
Truth of extinction is not a truth because it destroys the possibility of the future
9.) The Magic Cave -Leo represents the future
He doesn’t know it’s the end of everything. His innocence is a stark contrast to Justine’s calmness
The ending is anti-sublime in its silence and poetic beauty.
Teepee representative of Native American womb of Mother Earth.