On Lars von Trier’s MELANCHOLIA: A new article of mine offering a ‘therapeutic’ ‘reading’ thereof

My latest film-as-philosophy effort has just been published, with SEQUENCE:
http://reframe.sussex.ac.uk/sequence1/1-2-an-allegory-of-a-therapeutic-reading/

  1. Melancholia is one of my favourite films. It’s something I watch over and over again. It’s dense in allegories – as they don’t reveal themselves at once, rereading is required. And since the origins of his allegories are excessively obscure, ranging from biblical Apocrypha to forgotten Serbian folk tales, the reading of “off-screen” text is also required.

    It’s not as bad as Joyce; where Joyce had the explicit intention of giving scholars of literature 400 years of work with Finnegan’s Wake.

    It’s important when reading Melancholia to be aware that it is the second film in a sequence, that completes in trilogy; or a Hieronymus Bosch triptych. I haven’t seen the latest film yet, so I’m not sure if he’s abandoned the idea of trilogy, but the previous film; Antichrist, stands together with Melancholia as a duology. Antichrist is the beginning of the world, and Melancholia is the end of the world.

    Lars von Trier is a joker. Justine is a direct allusion to de Sade, but I wasn’t sure it was a joke, as in pre-publicity for Melancholia, he had “let on”, that he had created a hard core pornographic film. But maybe it wasn’t a joke, and it was a real herring wrapped in a red herring. It’s hard to know when he is telling the truth because he is a liar. He’s not a von. Some unassuming Germans might assume he is a minor German aristocrat, but he isn’t. He has also said in interviews that he is a Christian. Which he may or may not be, but it’s a hint, that the central allegories in Antichrist and Melancholia are theological.

    Philosophy is theology, with the deus ex machine removed – or you can see it the other way around. But, theology is a description of life and the world that requires a god, or gods, for its’ explanation. And though it offers some easy and comforting answers, it also throws up some terrible crises that are not so easy to resolve.

    If God is all powerful and all loving, why is there so much suffering in the world? Why is there so much evil? And if this all loving god, created us in his image, why are we; humans, so evil?

    The theologians, through the ages, have struggled with these questions and come up with their own patchwork of answers. Biblical allegories were not intended to be read absolutely as allegory. For one audience they were to be understood literally; and for another audience as allegory; but that the allegorical metaphors revealed a literal truth. For evil and suffering, the mainstream Abrahamic religions have the Garden of Eden.

    And the standard interpretation is God was good, he created the world and saw it was good. He created Adam and Eve, they were good, innocent (anti-intellectualism is thousands of years old), there was no suffering, and all the dinosaurs were vegetarians. Then the devil slipped into the Garden of Eden (played by a Barrack Obama lookalike in the History channel’s Bible series – it’s not certain whether that interpolation was intended allegorical or literal). Obama tricks the woman into eating from the fruit from forbidden tree; the Tree of knowledge of Good and Evil. And though it is still disputed to this day. Eve, empowered by her Evil knowledge, tricks Adam into eating for the tree. God is furious. And as any loving father would do, he kicks his children into the street. A world of suffering and evil.

    In Judaism, God makes and breaks covenants with his children. If something bad happens to them, it’s because they have angered God. All of this coherently explains the evils of the world, natural disasters, etc.

    This is too much for some. This god seems like a violent parent who sneaks up behind their child, and gives them a savage beating for a minor infraction – an infraction that may be completely within their imagination. This parent is evil.

    The theological answer a group like the Gnostic Christians came up with, was that the world was not created by God. That Yahweh, the god of the Jews is not God. Yahweh is a demiurge, and assisted by another demiurge; the Rebel (the devil), he created this world and its’ people to worship him. The true God is in a higher spiritual realm. All life on earth is evil.

    Back to the Antichrist and Melancholia. In the Antichrist, the woman is suffering from a deep depression, which appears to be resulting from the death of her son. They retreat to their lodge in the forest; Eden. The man; Adam, is a psychoanalyst. He attempts to piece together her increasingly psychotic statements – believing they will reveal a key to her state. One of her statements; “nature is Satan’s church”, is a revelation. That the world was created by the devil and not God. Adam kills Eve. The next morning the world seems harmonious and at peace, but Adam eats fruit from a tree, and hundreds of faceless women appear. There is no escape from this garden.

    Melancholia is the end of the world. Justine is depressed from the beginning. Her gift, the reason she can effortlessly write good ad copy, is that she knows what people desire 9but there is something supernatural about this insight). The wedding party is excessive to the point of nausea. The guests are shallow, her boss is despicable. She despises him, yet has him at her lavish wedding; she’s doing this for the sake of her career so she is very shallow too. Her husband is glib. His wedding present is an orchard; the Garden of Eden. She gets herself fired and breaks up with her new husband.

    In part two, Justine is extremely depressed. But as Melancholia approaches earth, she recovers. She tells her sister Claire, that earth is the only place in the universe with life, and all life will be destroyed by Melancholia. She tells Claire how she just knows this and other things. She has a supernatural gnosis.

    In the finale, when Melancholia crashes into earth, as they are consumed by flames, Claire is wailing and gnashing her teeth, while Justine is serene. I’m not sure what to make of the ending, if you want to follow a gnostic Christian reading, Justine is serene because she is being transported to a higher realm, and all life, all evil, in the universe is ending.

    I don’t believe von Trier is making a sincere theological comment. With depression there is often an attendant religious psychosis. And religion can be explained as the self soothing of a psychotic, when faced with an unbearable existential crisis. I’d really have to watch it again before I could make my mind up.

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