Panel: 'The Earth is evil': The Ethics, Depths, and Image of Melancholia
A Cinema Against Ethics: Melancholia
When I wrote, in Cinema After Deleuze, that Lars von Trier provides ‘a cinema against ethics’, I was unable to account for his most recent film, Melancholia. In this paper, therefore, I will apply my Deleuzian reading of von Trier to that film. Additionally, and most importantly, I will link the notion of an anti-ethics to Deleuze’s theses on the ‘depressive position’ (adapted from the writings of Melanie Klein) from The Logic of Sense. Those insights on ‘depression’ link up with the ‘melancholia’ of von Trier’s film, especially with the distinction between Claire – who embraces the depressive position in her search for the ‘good’ object and its distribution of love and hatred as well as its law of loss – and Justine – who instead embraces the schizoid realm of simulacra and its theatre of cruelty and terror. Here, von Trier extends his experiments in a cinema which takes us beyond good and evil.
Melancholia and the cinema of depths
Scott T. Wilson
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 Klienian 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 simulataneously) phantasmatic rather than realist. Here I will suggest that deliberately or not, the film’s narrative tells a very Klienian 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.
Central to all of Von Trier’s films are images of sacrifice. In particular, woman is cast as the sacrificial-image, but in general, all humans are but images-in-sacrifice in Von Trier’s work. The image is played in relation to their society of images where a sacrifice is mandatory for that society to function. With Melancholia, von Trier expands his system, so that the human-image activates another level of sacrificial nihilism. The ‘suffering’ of the sacrificial in Melancholia has to engage a different plane of images to achieve value within Von Trier’s oeuvre. This paper examines how the conditions of the sacrificial-image created by Melancholia enable Von Trier’s on screen jihad against humanity to be transmuted into martyrdom for all. The sacred-image is Melancholia, but its properties are not the predicating structures of psychoanalytic theory that locate the image to be thought within the terms of analysis. While numerous philosophers have discussed the elements of sacrifice in terms of a ‘symbolic other’ (Lacan), or the modes of an exchange-ethics of sacrifice that the killing of a living being demands of thought (Heidegger; Levinas; Bataille), this paper will engage a pre and post-Deleuzian Bergson, whose address of the image and sensation avoids the errors of associationism by indicating the generative matter [of the image]. Employing such a Bergsonian methodology, the paper asks what is the image condition of sacrifice after Melancholia arrives?