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Mourning & melancholia

In Mute, Nathan Brown writes on origin and extinction in Terrence Malick and Lars von Trier:

The problem of von Trier’s film is thus ultimately the same as that of Malick’s The Tree of Life: no less than the problem of the relation between matter and spirit. In their treatment of this problem, the two films are practically mirror images. Malick’s film is concerned with the origin of life; von Trier’s with its end. The narrative motor of The Tree of Life is analepsis; that of Melancholia is prolepsis. The materialism of Malick’s film strains against its dalliance with Christianity; that of von Trier’s film against its pseudoscientific scenario. But both are concerned with the affective experience of loss, with the material conditions of possibility for such experience, and with the hope of spiritual restitution through collective ceremony. Perhaps also, at a meta-filmic level, through aesthetic experience. In a word, one is a film about mourning; the other is a film about melancholia.

And insofar as one is concerned with ancestral time, the other with the time of extinction, both are concerned with the problem of dia-chronicity: of a temporal disjunction between being and thinking. Life and mind, feeling and thinking, have a beginning and an end, and since these do not correspond with that of the cosmos, to think their origin is also to think what remains after their negation: material oblivion. Thus von Trier’s film answers Malick’s, insofar as it is not the affective projection of a world beyond (heaven) that enables something like spiritual restitution, but rather the imminence of the end of the world, without experiential remainder. A confrontation with this ending – at an ontological rather than an existential level – is what makes possible whatever collective communion takes place in Melancholia: the being-in-common of what has not always been and what will not always be.

First posted: Wednesday, September 26th, 2012.

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