I was wrong about Melancholia on two counts. First, I thought that German Romanticism is about grandiosity and sentimentality. It is not. Second, I thought that all absence-related frames in Melancholia are trivial. My list contained five in-your-face absences: two having to do with empty chairs, one absence from a golf cart, one from a bottle of pills and one from a dish for collecting berries. Upon the second viewing of the film, I was glad to prove myself wrong. Melancholia has a complex visual language that gets buried under the obscene beauty of the film. There are some Antonioni-esque moves: like L’Eclisse, the movie begins with an end. Consider also absences. Showing a chair abandoned by Justine, who is the film’s main character, is seemingly plain in its message. We get it – she is not there. But things are not so simple. The camera anxiously hovers over her absence, zooms in and out, and jerks away. Justine’s absence is not calm, it is anxious, just as her presence is. Moreover, there are obvious formal parallels between the empty chair image and the preceding sequence. Justine’s absence is framed by two men sitting beside her. Immediately before this, we are shown two trees framing a part of the sky where planet Melancholia is present but not yet fully visible.

Because the image of invisible Melancholia structurally resembles the image of Justine’s absence, we are led to wonder if these characters are one and the same. Their images, when juxtaposed, impart meaning to one another. German Romanticism spoke of a sense of absence that always points beyond what appears, and absences in Melancholia likewise transcend their initial appearances.

Melancholia

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