This is a somewhat cleaner version of a response I wrote on Steve Shaviro's excellent blog, The Pinocchio Theory. I wrote it in response to his excellent and insightful preliminary review of the film Melancholia by Lars von Trier, which can be read here: http://www.shaviro.com/Blog/?
I sent my review to Tim Morton because I pointed at one of his books in the review. He asked if he could republish it here on his blog, and I agreed, but I wanted to "clean it up a little bit". I wrote the review on Shaviro's blog very late at night (1 AM) and in retrospect feel it could use some detailing. I am honoured that Tim wants this on his blog.
- Henry Warwick
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Steve, I agree with your points. I would like to add my own perspective, which is that Melancholia is also an allegory of the end of western civilisation.
Justine is the romantic depressionist. Like her namesake she dies in an instant by an implacable act of "nature". She is kind of an embodiment of the anti-rationalist pessimism of Schoepenhauer et al. Her sister, Claire, is simply trying to understand what the hell is going on. Claire = Clear. Clair's primary concern is her son, whom she loves dearly. She is the “normal human”, living in extremely abnormal circumstances, and her limitations and frailties distort her actions and responses, even as she does her best to cope. She has feelings - complex feelings ranging from panic to devotion - and is free to express them. She is basically an optimist, and even when things are going very poorly, it is only at the end when she truly gives up hope and then tries to come up with an honourable exit from this mortal coil. Her child is The Child. The father (her husband) is Science – rationalist, positivist, Science. As he is a true rationalist and dedicated to his own “enlightened self-interest”, it only makes sense why he suicides.
It is HIS estate they live on – they live in luxury thanks to Science. It is a wealthy estate – wasteful, pointless, and finally dysfunctional and suicidal and completely incapable of protecting them from Melancholia.
The Arrival of Melancholia is the realisation that the World is coming to an End. And the World is socially constructed - especially the World they live in. Hence, to really get the point of the World Ending, von Trier couldn't have the “World” ending – it has to be The Planet Itself Ending. The utter bullshit of the “science” displayed in the film re: Melancholia’s path to Earth's destruction, is so thin that any high school student who studied rudimentary gravitational physics can demonstrate how utterly wrong the movie is. As that is so, the destruction of the planet Must Be not the end of the Planet but the end of the World, and the only world we see in the movie is the world of the bourgeoisie… the Western World.
For me Melancholia is a philosophical surpassing of Avatar. Avatar was very clunky in its critique of Western Industrial Civilisation. Melancholia is quite the opposite. Avatar said “We’re ruining the biosphere with industrialism. We have to stop industrialism cuz… it’s like... really bad.” Melancholia comes from a more sophisticated “Dark Ecology” position – there is no solution. There is no “way out”, the World (western industrialism) is coming to an end, and we have no idea what will replace it or how or when.
Now, it appears that Melancholia is about the size of Uranus, only rocky. That’s MASSIVE. If it had passed by the earth as close as it seems (well within lunar orbit) it would have tossed the moon out of orbit, and blown the earth into a much more eccentric orbit around the sun. It would not have gone “around the earth” and then come back for an impact. Something that huge and that dense would have tossed the earth around like a toy and dragged it about. The looping manoeuvre in the movie would/could not have happened. IF the earth did strike Melancholia head on, it would have blown a big chunk of Melancholia away – it would not have been simply absorbed, and this would create a smaller Melancholia and several large moons of Melancholia. Or, if Melancholia was somewhat less dense, or struck with a more glancing and harder blow, the Earth's impact would have blown it to pieces and created another asteroid belt around the sun. The density and mass of this asteroid belt would be so great that the orbits of Mars and Venus would be massively disrupted. None of this happened or was even suggested in the film.
Which is why I suggest the movie wasn’t about the science of planet impacts or the end of the Planet at all. Trier says it is about humans acting in a difficult and depressing time, drawing on his own experiences of clinical depression. I see that as a humanist handle to a larger story, as described above - the end of Western Industrial Civilisation - the end of the "World" as we know it - the vapourisation of the capitalist system by the utterly implacable and vastly larger forces of our planet's ecology.
Of course, I could be totally wrong. But that’s my story and I’m stickin with it for now….