Melancholia (2011) by Lars Von Trier leaves the spectator with so many questions…is the film primarily about depression? Or death? What is the connection between the images of famous artworks, specifically the Brueghel painting? Why are there continual references by John to the 18 holes on his golf course, and then an image of a 19th hole? What is the magic cave? Why does Leo refer to Justine as Auntie Steelbreaker? Melancholia is a fascinating puzzle, which I don’t intend to take on in a single blog. Instead, I will focus on Justine and her depression as the driving force of the narrative.
First, the visuals of the film are surrealist-beautiful. Images of Justine “wading” through gray, ash-like vines pulling at her while in her wedding dress, or Justine bathing in the light of the plant Melancholia embracing death like a lover – the visual embodiment of depression is astounding and you can literally feel the heaviness and the hopelessness. At the point where Justine realizes that Melancholia will collide with Earth, her temperament changes. She regains her appetite, becomes more clear headed. It’s as if the planet Melancholia is an exterior manifestation of her inner agony. She sees her demon fully now and is the only character who is prepared for death. John clings to his belief in Science, while Claire vacillates between Justine and John’s outlook. At one point in the film, Claire and Justine are out riding on the grounds of the estate and they reach a bridge which both of their horses refuse to cross. The bridge may symbolize Faith. None of the characters employ a faith beyond their own fatalist human constructs. Justine follows her own harrowing rabbit hole of depression, ignoring that there is actually a flag indicating an additional 19th hole on the golf course – an unseen option or portal that leads to something beyond death. Her depression actually leads her to this bridge but she is so immersed in herself that she is unable to cross it. Faith, despite depression, doesn’t ignore evil, death, hopelessness, rather it sees and fully embraces these as the deeper reality of Earth, of humanity. Like Christ facing the reality of the cross in Gethsemane, Faith understands and struggles with the fear of death, the fear of nothingness, but continues forward as into a dark and terrifying forest, being simultaneously sure and unsure of coming out on the other side. Melancholia, or true depression, is an inability to live within a veil of happiness, an acute sensitively to the true proximity of our death. Facing the agony of empty nothingness and still emerging on the other side.