• Judith Sacal

CHAMBRE CINEMA: Searching for a meaning

by JUDITH SACAL


One of the feelings that has been established in the social imaginary of the reality that we find ourselves living in 2020 is uncertainty. The fear of the threat of a virus that can end human life has caused all individuals on the planet to reflect on it.

Common tense was altered to force us to ask questions, which perhaps we had never asked ourselves before.

Science has become the new faith that promises us the salvation of humanity, while each individual continues to reflect on their own life and the meaning of it.

It is natural to fear the end although we prefer not to think about it, but seeing it through the camera of Lars Von Trier, it is fascinating and shocking.



2. "MELANCHOLIA": The human condition


To understand a Lars von Trier film, we need to know its history and the trajectory that occupies a place in the history of contemporary cinema. It is an important reference from the creation of the Danish film movement Dogma95 that was distinguished as a breaking point towards the traditional scheme of Hollywood cinema that dominated the world until then. Along with Thomas Vinterberg, he inaugurated in 1995 (the centenary of the first projection of the Lumière brothers) the reinvention of this new way of making cinema that, supported by a manifesto, establishes the need to create a more pure cinema inspired by traditional values, giving priority to the story, the performance and the natural settings, they rejected the uses of technological alterations of the overproduction of special effects, editing and large budgets. Despite the movement's disbandment in 2002, von Trier has not interrupted his internationally recognized and award winning filmmaking, despite becoming a controversial figure (proof of this was his unfortunate statement - then regretted - which resulted in his expulsion from Cannes under the title "persona non grata"), his films have distinguished themselves by addressing themes from a reflective depth about the human condition.

We have seen love brought to the brink of anguish and sacrifice in Breaking the Waves (1996) and Dancer in the Dark (2000), violence and decline of social values in Dogville (2003), cruelty of slavery and racism in Manderlay (2005) and the painful burden of desolation of one's existence in Antichrist (2009). All of his films have built a narrative line from a shocking and deep impact perspective by handling the reconfiguration intentionality of inner ruptures, addressing the questions to human issues that surround us as individuals and throwing us many questions about the sense of the existence.

It is fascinating that von Trier chooses to recover a concept that contains in its own meaning, the burden of a past time that was not and a future that will not be in Melancholia (2011). Melancholy, from Greece to the dawn of the twentieth century, has been a reason for reflection. Approached from astrology, art or medicine; melancholy has been tinged with an air of mystery due to its condition of blurring the boundaries between the self and the world, distinguishing itself by establishing a distant relationship of silence by facing the world as a strange and alien environment, which is no longer the place that protects us. Likewise, in the Middle Ages it was observed from a scientific-philosophical lens, and although it was determined that it could be understood from the theory of humors, at the same time it was associated with sensitive and elevated spirits, such as those of the artistic geniuses. Approached like a state of deep sadness that cancels any attempt of will towards the world and life itself, an existential paralysis, of an absolute grief, as Sigmund Freud said, “the longing for something that is lost”.

In Melancholia (2011) von Trier once again proposes a perspective of human existence based on the life and death duality as a response to the imminent threat of the end of the world, literally, the threat of the end of planet Earth. Evidencing the human nature, understanding limitations to assume the possibility of the impossible within a poetic universe. The resource that he uses with indisputable clarity is the presence of dualities and symbolisms. Those that are not limited and defined, but those aspects that coexist inside each one of us, that configure and build us as we find ourselves living our lives through time.

In this film, von Trier confronts us with the actions, thoughts and emotions that we experience within our own reality, within ourselves and with the world we inhabit, assuming that we know that we live and die at some point, apparently we believe that we know it, but honestly what do we know? What are we? Who are we?

We know things because we see them in the world around us, we imitate them, we incorporate them into our social behavior and we replicate them. Everything is apparent, everything is learned, everything is repeated in a cycle of beginnings and endings that seem to provide us with this sense of continuity, the certainty of being inhabitants in a world that we seldom look at, building relationships, making plans for the future and continuously wanting to build a state of well-being and happiness. But, what is the meaning of our existence?

The first sequence of Melancholia reveals the end, as a prologue, the static images appear before us like suspended in the flow of time, showing us the pieces of an apocalyptic puzzle that we ignore, at the time that the coldness of the resource is compensated with a load of force and intensity with the prelude to Tristan and Isolde by Wagner. This story begins from the dualisms that dominate due to their symbolic charge, that of life and death, happiness and melancholy, reason and renunciation, the sisters Justine and Claire. Von Trier invites us to participate through precise dialogues and beautiful scenes to go beyond the image itself and find in its references to cinematographic and artistic works the meanings in their diversity as a reflection of the human drama intensity.

Justine (Kirsten Dunst) stars in the first part of the film, on the day of her magnificent wedding organized by her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) who has set out to make her an expensive and perfect event. Drawing a perfect portrait of the usual of our contemporaneity social structures, the perfectly planned event will be interrupted in its mechanical flow by the constant absences of Justine (escaping for a walk to the golf course, having sex with a young man she has just met or taking a bath until she fall asleep).


Justine (Kirsten Dunst) in Melancholia (2011), Photo © IMDb

Everyone watches her but no one looks at her, her feeling is so sublime and elusive that it goes beyond human reason, her feeling finds a reflection in art, when in one of her disappearances she takes refuge in the library and in an impulse of rage she scrutinizes in the art books the images of works of art that may carry the language that can describe her as a silent reflection of the depths of her mental state, of her aching soul. Throwing away Malevich's books, whose abstraction supposes a subjective and mediated look at the world, she chooses the images from Pieter Brueghel's book The country of Jauja, that shows the excesses and abandonments of the social decadence, Caravaggio's David with the head of Goliath where thedecapitated head of Goliath seems to be suspended in the instant of the gesture of someone who is already dead but still seems alive and Millais's Ophelia as the mirro of her reality. The gravity of her existence and the incarnated pain shows Justine's inability to enjoy the life that surrounds her, leaving her with the feeling of isolation and dislocation from the time, form the world, and from life itself.

She shows us that those breaking points and ruptures appear as meaningless actions, that moment that should have been the happiest day of her life, we can see that the only thing that is left of it is a sad bride. Justine gets married on a night in which her mother demerits marriages, her boss harasses her for a new and successful advertising slogan, and her husband becomes frustrated by the non-consummation of the union, therefore, he immediately leaves her. The paradigm arises as our inability to find the answers through the obvious causes, the answers are not clear at all. While the wedding event was perfect, she tried to hide her inner feelings and pretended happiness through her smile, the melancholic state in which she finds herself made her incapable of feeling anything, yet everyone is disappointed by her sadness. Only when Justine raises her gaze to the sky to observe the red star of Antares in the sky of a universe that contains everything, there she finds the only certainty of a meaning that arises, the universe is so vast and so deep that human reason will never be able to understand how such greatness can have both, the power of creation and of life annihilation.


Justine (Kirsten Dunst) in Melancholia (2011), Photo © IMDb

In the second part of the film, Claire, again organizes her house to perfection in anticipation of the early arrival of Justine who is plunged into a final state of depression and melancholy. Turned into a lifeless specter, Justine has lost all ability to respond and will to life itself, strange to herself and to the world around her, she spends the hours in a state of deep lethargy in a silent suffering, her thoughts have disappeared, her emotions are asleep, her body has become so fragile that not even her feet can touch the ground. This situation arises a tension state by John (Kiefer Sutherland), Claire's astronomer husband, who does not stop judging Justine's behaviors, except for the moments that he is looking through his telescope, because he is absorbed by an astronomical event, the approaching of planet Melancholy is five days away from a possible coalition with planet Earth. The threat of an end that appears real.


Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and John (Kiefer Sutherland) in Melancholia (2011), Photo © IMDb

As the days go by, the atmosphere in the home changes and a transformation takes place within each of all the characters. When the simple idea of the destruction of life and humanity forces us to face inevitable death as a possibility, there are not many alternatives left, the immediate position of denial throws us the false resource of the imminent escape, because of despair toward the simple idea of individual death is not lodged in reason, therefore every aspect of its existence is suspended before the end arises.

John, with his scientist mind, becomes obsessively involved in his attempt in the search for an error in the calculation as a last hope while facing the imminent threat of planet Melancholia; John's logical reason dissolves before the inability of the expected response. Claire's serenity and perfection is transformed to suffer a state of anxiety and terror that paralyzes her, overwhelmed by panic and the neurosis of the impossibility of the near future, plans an alternative to end her life in the face of the angst to assume the reality. Leo (Cameron Spurr) her son is dedicated to investigate the next event, he discovers that the path that the planet Melancholia describes as it approaches the Earth is called the Dance of Death, under his curious and innocent gaze he creates an artifact that allows him to understand that trajectory in the sky.

While Justine's melancholy suddenly transforms that anguished sensation of a meaningless life, that feeling that kept her in a state of life suspension as a preamble of death, into a sense of life that recovers the hope for the death as a reality.


Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) in Melancholia (2011), Photo © IMDb

Melancholia throws us endless reflections, it is undoubtedly a cosmic drama in which it confronts us with our fragility and our vulnerability towards the fear. When the question of human will and desire exists within the will of a universal destiny that escapes our mind, neither science nor faith gives us any refuge, the only wait is bearable when magic appears and we invoke the power of nature to bear it, since perhaps it is the only resource we have to disappear.


Justine (Kirsten Dunst), Leo (Cameron Spurr) and Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) in Melancholia (2011), Photo © IMDb




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