Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Whole Universe of Melancholia

Melancholia is an intensely subjective film. However there are no hints in its formal schema to indicate this. The camera is omniscient: There are no POV shots, no subjective flashbacks and it is not wedded to any one character in particular. In this way no one characters' perspective on the world is allowed to dominate. Indeed the film is structured in two sections so that it can first study the clinically depressed Justine's reaction to an intensely happy event (her marriage) and then secondly the ordinary Claire's reaction to an intensely unhappy event (the end of the world), while contrasting their demeanour with that of the other.

But despite its apparent even-handedness the game is rigged from the start because the film is expressionistic: the universe that Claire and Justine live in is not ours and it is built to conform to the depressive's worldview. For me the key to realising this is the scene in which Justine insists that she knows things and then is shown to be right three times in quick succession. The world embodies her worst imaginings: Nearly everyone at the wedding fails her: they're either ill-intentioned (her boss), totally unhelpful (her mother), frivolously self-interested (her father, her brother-in-law) or well-meaning but hopelessly misunderstanding (her husband). More importantly Melancholia's improbable arrival and impact validate her central belief: Life and whatever attendant happiness it may bring is quickly swept away.

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