We’re back! I decided to take a break for the election/holiday season when the actual apocalypse was feel a bit too close to present reality for this tongue in cheek blog.
But it’s officially 2021! In the first hours of the new year, it’s tempting to toss out my doomsday anxiety with last year’s calendar: vaccine distribution has begun, we’re less than three weeks away from the end of the Trump presidency, and everything’s totally going to be fine!
Except time’s a social construct, and I doubt the murder hornets care what my day planner says.
Since November and the Biden win that many hope will begin the wind-down of Armageddon, I’ve struggled to find a movie that captures the chaotic cocktail of emotions I’ve been sipping for the last couple months: the hollow sense of relief, the naive optimism, and underlying certainty that the Earth still spirals toward doom and gloom.
Too dark? Well then, you’ve probably never watched Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia.
Melancholia follows Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg), two sisters as they unwittingly await the end of the world, approaching in the form of a massive, rogue planet, aptly named Melancholia. The planet is supposed cross paths with Earth and continue its random journey through space, however, after passing Earth, Melancholia ricochets back to collide with our little blue marble, just as Claire feared and Justine low-key hoped.
Melancholia is the spiritual antithesis to the Hollywood disaster movie, and ultimately cares more about the question it poses than the destruction it features: what would you do if the world were about to end, and should we really care that much? The film focuses on contrasting the reactions of its three central characters to the rapidly approaching celestial body.
Claire, the more practical of the sisters, can’t shake her fear of Melancholia’s approach, constantly researching the figures of those dissenting scientists who insist that Melancholia means the Earth’s destruction. Claire’s (100%, grade A douche snozzle) husband, John, dismisses her anxiety, swearing that there is no possible way that Melancholia will collide with Earth while he sets up his telescopes.
The tension plays out between the couple while Justine, mid-recovery from a paralyzing depressive episode, basks in the glow of the oncoming planet. Like literally, she strips down to soak up that good Melancholia tan.
The swirl of emotions that make up the dramatic center of Melancholia make this otherwise… just crushingly depressing movie weirdly comforting in this moment. It perfectly recreates the reactions I see to our weird little doomsday and our (tbh surprising) survival into 2021. It recreates all the reactions I feel on a daily basis, the blind assurances and the anxious doubt and the apathy humming all the while in the background.
Melancholia also finds the most tension in the gap between world’s apparent survival and the revelation that the planet is coming back to crush the Earth. Watching relief fade into disbelief, panic, and grief on screen felt like peaking into my own spirit as Christmas gave way to New Year’s and my heart kept waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Part of what makes this movie and the way it deals with the mortality of … you know, everything so special is Hollywood’s relative difficulty with facing the end of the world. There’s not a huge backlog of posts on this blog, so it’d be pretty easy for you to notice the Watch List for the Apocalypse doesn’t include many movies about the … well the Apocalypse. In truth, the whole idea makes me pretty anxious.
Hollywood produces its fair share of post-apocalyptic movies since, I don’t know, at least Mad Max and especially in the last decade with the zombie fad of the 2010s. But the post-apocalypse is about survival in the same way disaster movies, which often threaten world-ending stakes, are about survival—preventing the apocalypse. There are so few depictions of how the non-world-saving civilians deal with the threat of impending doom.
And if 2020 taught me anything, it’s that we are not handling it very well. The anxiety, denial, and apathy of Melancholia feel so characteristic of the last year, and if 2021 is going to be different, we need a different way of dealing.
I don’t know if that’s a New Year’s Resolution I can make for the world… but I have my own. This year, I’ll keep pushing past my apocalypse anxiety and start dealing with more end times oriented content! We have such a hard time confronting Earth’s mortality, the movies that actually take up the topic could be a glimpse into that weird little corner of our minds we try to pretend isn’t there.
Next month’s movie: Seeking a Friend for the End of the World.