Melancholia Sequence Exegesis

 

“It Tastes Like Ashes” – short from Melancholia

In Melancholia, the audience follows along the story of the last dark and dismal days on earth through sisters’, Justine and Claire’s, perspectives, which the two parts of the film are named correspondingly. Part One acts as a memory of Justine’s crippling depression effects and ultimately destroys her wedding and marriage, whilst in Part Two, Claire takes it upon her duty to care for the near catatonic Justine, all the while fighting against the fears that Melancholia will strike and obliterate the earth.

 

Director Lars von Trier has reflected on the end of the earth through a lens of stunning filmic meditation where he has cleverly managed to metaphorically depict clinical and severe depression via this worldly catastrophe. Justine, who is wedded to her own melancholia at the same time as the fast approaching planet Melancholia acts as the most physical symbol of her depression, pessimism and longing for death. For von Trier, who personally identifies himself with his depressed heroine, melancholics are “a superior breed… more enlightened souls who suffer because the world is too much with them.” [1]

 

 

In this short, ideas surrounding Justine’s deep depression and yearning for death are extremely apparent as she says, “It tastes like ashes” and begins to break down. In a world that once seemed so familiar and full of love, Justine begins to realise that even the things she once enjoyed and found solace in, like the meatloaf she attempted to consume, are tainted. This paired with the dimly candle-lit dining room, which is reminiscent of the darkness inside Justine’s mind, add an encompassing and suppressing heaviness on our eyes to highlight this pivotal desire of wanting to give up.

The short and apparent cuts of shots between characters and movements create a sense of uncertainty and anxiety that contrast against the softness of the actors clothing, presence and lighting. Von Trier explores around the warping of time and space, where a sense of duration, yourself and others is thrown out of proportion during times of immense depression, which is personified through these skewed proportions and interactions inherent in the mis-en-scene of the shot.

The director also uses many musical pieces from Andrej Tarkovsky, where the musician states that his music works and is based on refrains; “the refrain brings us back to our first experience of entering that poetic world, making it immediate and at the same time renewing it”. [2] Here in this short however, there is an obvious elimination and absence of any sound effects or music. This heightens the severity of Justine’s anxiety and brings the audience closer into the world that she experiences. We begin to understand how her depression is effecting her identity and the sense of her relationship that she has with the world around her, which becomes untethered and unfocused. Through the lack of sound here, time slows to a standstill and the weight of the world around you as an onlooker, becomes heavy.

 

The film takes the crippling nature of the disease head on and exposes even the tiniest of facets and characteristics that someone who is struggling may experience. This is one of the scenes which showcases the difficulties surrounding when the most simple of tasks.

 

[1] Toh, J. 2012, Melancholia, and the meaning of life – ABC Religion & Ethics, Abc.net.au. viewed 13 May 2017, <http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2012/01/31/3419611.htm&gt;.

[2] Tarkovski, A. and Hunter-Blair, K. 1986, Sculpting In Time, University of Texas Press, Austin, p. 158.

 

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