Upon the purchase of Lars Von Trier’s recently released end-of-the-world movie Melancholia, Boris Kit, the head of Magnolia Pictures, commented, “as the 2012 apocalypse is upon us, it is time to prepare for a cinematic last supper”. Subtitled by Von Trier as a “a beautiful film about the end of the world”, Melancholia delivers not only on Kit’s promise but also succeeds in providing a brutal social critique, masquerading as an archetypal character study which explores the nature of the depressive mind versus that of the socialised individual. Switching from a staged social realism reminiscent of the Dogme films to the fantastical science fiction of the movie‘s second half, Von Trier utilises cinema’s possibilities for the hyperreal similarly to, and as effectively as, Gaspar Noe's nihilistic exploration of life after death Enter the Void.
Both directors specialise in bombarding their audiences with visual and auditory spectacles to numinous ends via shock and awe. But in addition to their shared technological preferences and overridingly nihilistic outlooks, there exists a shared sense of the ecstatic, of the seductiveness inherent in destruction. Von Trier and Noe are masters of the numinous realm, of the creation of cinematic rapture and loaded technological attractions. This often serves the purpose of translating their individual visions of oblivion into the minds of the audience. The results are undeniably beautiful and cathartic. But let's not be bowled over by mere aesthetics, or be fooled into believing that either director believes in shock for shock's sake.
It is apparent, in light not just of 2012 but of the current global situation, that both Von Trier and Noe have captured something of the zeitgeist. They have channeled particular kinds of feelings of futility in the face of a dying planet, a dying capitalist order, a consumerist cultural wasteland, in addition to a more generalised sense of existential doom. But why does this sense of doom, of living in the end times, resonate? Have people of every generation and social order contemplated the notion of living in the end times or is this phenomenon specific to the late capitalist period? What separates the current apocalyptical discourse from previous, more ancient visions of Judgement Day? And why is it that, as Jameson once remarked, we find it easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism? Finally, how is cinema reflecting these feelings, or even, moulding them?
Over the coming weeks and months I shall be posting a series of articles which explore the history and nature of eschatological thought and how these ideas have come to bear on cinema. Along the way I shall encompass elements of film theory, philosophy, psychology and cultural theory in exploring the concept of time itself and the seemingly inevitable outcome of a dead-end consumer culture, all with a focus on The End (of the world, of time, of capitalism).
I also aim to reveal the way in which Strange Factories can be placed within this mileau and how its themes manifest in both the content and form of FoolishPeople's forthcoming Film Fantastique.
Perhaps there will be some light at the end of the tunnel. Perhaps, to paraphrase Half Man, Half Biscuit, the light at the end of the tunnel will be the light of an oncoming train. Nevertheless, I hope you'll take your chances and bear with me. After all, have any of us anything to lose...?
(Images: Lars Von Trier's Melancholia; Gaspar Noe's Enter the Void)