My Death by (Lars Von Trier's) Melancholia

by on Nov.23, 2011

[In response to Derek’s comment below, I want to pre-empt my own review with this summary: this is a radically positive review. This movie killed me. I am dead. Sublime, people. Sublime.]

I will begin this mini-account of my murder by Melancholia with the usual spoiler alert–

Beware, beware.

I have no idea what elements of this movie a normal mind may have detected from the press buzz or the trailer. I have an abnormal mind, like a revived Poe bride my eye glitters with abnormal Enthusiasm, and I received the trailer and buzz as so many occult messages intended only for myself, to rise from my coffin or burn down my attic that I might meet Melancholia on the creekbank for infernal conversation, my gown parted, and my raven locks each lifting under her electric attention like so many tongues regurgitating flame.

That is to say:  Melancholia is neither utopic nor dystopic but ectopic—a burgeoning malignancy distributed across the body of the film.  The justly praised opening sequence provides the most decadent train of images—a bride floating in a creek or running in slowmotion enreathed by roots and vines, a mother clutching a child sinking into an unnatural expanse of green, birds and white light falling from the sky like divination in overdrive, refulgence and overcapacity fluxing into one another, a riddle that keeps reciting its own terms like a killer sphinx, supersaturation so romantically Sublime that it seems to invert before our eyes from height  to depth and back again. The sequence finishes with the collision of a celestial body into a planet—but ends  again with the title, “Lars Von Trier Melancholia”.  One term colliding with another again and again, oversaturating each other, never equalizing with each other—an erratically distributed impact, spasm, rebound, repetition, until  there is no after or before, and all we can think is ‘event’, ‘event’—

Beware: Beware: Art arrives: Event.

The central two hours of the movie elapse  like a dream—a dream of elapsation, a dream of life among the superrich on planet earth. They have a wedding, a taxi ride, several baths, a glass of wine, breakfast on the terrace. In this petty mini world a failure to cut a cake or wash one’s body passes for catastrophe. These events, realistically depicted by major actors with dialogue, costumes, etc, should be the ‘real’ events of the film, but instead the supersaturation and aesthetic gravity of the opening sequence keeps spasming into this financially insulated species world with the heave of the real—this ‘realist narrative’ feels like the aftereffect (at best) of the opening aesthetic big bang, even though (plotwise) it should preceed it. So genre and catastrophe and chronology bound and rebound, bend and are punctured because the singularly anticipated event has already happened, happened so indelibly in the opening sequence that it sheds its supposed premonition as aftereffect, or side effect. Like a flux capacitor it reverses all the tide, it sends shockwaves, like the Big Bang whose aftermath we are all continually riven by, riven together and drowned, our own image bouncing back from space to noone, our species is its own aftereffect.

In addition to inverting the events preceding it as so much aftermath, Melancholia also ruins its own wedding, dispenses with its male characters like so much malign tissue (here gender roles pulse and reverse again—a scorned groom, rather than a bride, skulks off with his parents; Keither Sutherland goes the full Madame Bovary) so that only two adult sisters and a boy remain non-heterosexually, non-reproductively, to greet Melancholia (another disruption of Christian Annunciation narratives—the Messiah arrives but the Child is already born—the new Messiah (the antichrist?) has to crush the extant Child).

But my main ‘impression’ (such a tiny word for a total impact with this kind of Gesamktness) was of impact itself, again and again, distress, obliteration, a female infarction with the whole pressure of anguish, violence, and malignancy, a cutter goddess who cuts down the whole universe and the child, too, and herself, and dies alone with her sister in a not quite consensual conflagration. Not a plot so much as a continuous dispersed and total ending, impossibly except that it keeps issuing the conditions of its own possibility, a conclusion so massive that it renders all previous events aftermath, an inverted mirror image of previousness,  as if its protagonists, its audience, the human race itself could gestate in reverse  back into the bang of the big bang and be destroyed this time in its black clasming uterus.


9 comments for this entry:
  1. Derek White

    Thanks for putting into words everything I suspected about this film, despite the nothing but rave reviews i’ve read (if you count ‘utterly depressing’ as a rave review). Now the question is will I be able to resist putting myself through such anguish knowing full well I will be disappointed in myself for giving in to see it?

    Funny how these sentiments apply to how i felt about seeing the Venice Bienniale a few weeks ago… seem’s this is the prevailing theme of art these days in reaching such absurd levels of saturation and hypocrisy, a self-mocking parody of parody, “impossibly except that it keeps issuing the conditions of its own possibility” ….

  2. Joyelle McSweeney

    Oh no Derek I LOVED THIS MOVIE. You should totally see it and then post a review here. Especially if you really DON’T love it.

  3. Joyelle McSweeney

    Murder, death, and obliteration by Art are some of my highest goals both for the Art and for myself.

  4. Seth Oelbaum

    You go, girl!

  5. Johannes

    I love the description of how the opening credits overwhelm the movie (makes the rest of the movie feel aftermath-ish) and this remind me how the closing credits of Dogville totally re-charges the power of that movie. /Johannes

  6. Derek White

    Well, yes, love/hate, love to hate or hate to love, that strange attraction. The problem with Lars Von Trier films is i usually feel like killing myself afterwards, but in a good way, as long as i don’t.

  7. Lucas de Lima

    Just saw the movie last night and of course I love this post! Am having scattered thoughts about the primordial return to the “magic cave”… and the role of Justine as the sickly, stunted prophetess. Her melancholia at times feels like an angsty teenage girl’s, but of course she ends up being the fiercest of all characters…

  8. Jared

    Have to see this still. Am hearing a range of pro/con sentiments. Love the idea of film/Art as not beginning/middle/end but a protracted ending, its own time-travel cause collapsing back on itself…

  9. sam langer

    what does goes the full madam bovary mean?