Saturday, 14 July 2012

Melancholia and the cinema of depths

Now, the history of depths begins with what is most terrifying: it begins with the theatre of terror whose unforgettable picture Melanie Klein painted.

Gilles Deleuze, Logic of Sense

There’s a resemblance between the two planets and Justine’s tits. Can you see that? ... when they were kind of getting very close. That’s a very important point.

Lars von Trier, Criterion Forum.
As its soundtrack suggests, Melancholia is a romance, but a romance between two sisters and two planets, apparently ‘good’ ones and ‘bad’ ones, set in a Kleinian cinema of terror. Appropriately dominated by a register of orality and consumption, its mise-en-scene a luxury hotel and golf resort, the film is organized around various scenes of eating: a wedding breakfast, an end-of-the-world or death breakfast and the special meal of a meatloaf that tastes of ashes. This paper will argue that the film depicts what Freud calls in his essay ‘Mourning and Melancholia’ a ‘mental constellation of revolt’ in the context of the voracious orality of a consumer culture whose acme and unsurpassable limit is represented in the film by the luxury golf course and the 19th hole. The prominence of the latter, clearly signalled at the beginning and end of the film, indicates that the film’s register is largely (or simultaneously) phantasmatic rather than realist. Here I will suggest that deliberately or not, the film’s narrative tells a very Kleinian story of psychic development from the earliest sadistic/oral, paranoid-schizoid phase of the infant’s relation with the mother’s breast through the ‘depressive position’ that enables the process of ‘identification’ (in Justine’s case with the planet) necessary for the passage to ‘symbolization’. The latter figured, no doubt, by Justine again in the erection of the ‘magic cave’ that provides the space for the ironic ‘happy ending’ of the sisters’ reconciliation and successful fulfilment of maternal responsibility. But beyond this simple allegory, my paper will consider whether Melancholia, through its technical means, seeks to produce a ‘kleinmatic’ cinema of depths.
Ashes to Ashes: The Ethics, Depths, and Image of Melancholia
Panel Proposal for the 2012 Film-Philosophy conference with Felicity Colman and Richard Rushton