Thoughts on the Film, Melancholia

“Even death is not to be feared by the one who has lived wisely.”

– Buddha Sakyamuni

Have you watched the movie Melancholia? Not yet, may I then suggest you take some time off to watch the film.

Frankly, I’m not a fan of Kirsten Dunst, who plays the role of lead actress (no offence to her worldwide fans) and had never heard of writer and director Lars von Trier (Who???, that was my first reaction when I heard the name )

However watching Melancholia is an experience it itself, come what human being type you may be.

In short about the film, The narrative revolves around two sisters Justine ( Kirsten Dunst ) and Claire ( Charlotte Gainsbourg ) during and shortly after Justine’s wedding, while an approaching rogue planet by the name Melancholia is about to collide with Earth.

The film prominently features music from the prelude to Richard Wagner’s opera Tristan und Isolde (1857–59), which I found similar to Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun,by Claude Debussy.I have covered the story of Tristan und Isolde on a separate note.

The film begins with haunting off gravity no dialogue scenes featuring Justine in mostly a wedding gown accompanied by back ground theme prelude to Richard Wagner’s opera Tristan und Isolde ( In fact the theme is heard most of time in the film so by the time it’s over I felt like going for the entire composition ).

 

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The film then continues in two parts.

Part One: “Justine”

When dialogue finally arrives to the film, Justine happens to notice a particularly bright red star in the twilight sky, which John (Claire’s husband played by Kiefer Sutherland) identifies as Antares and the film then moves on to the various events at Justine’s wedding and how it finally ends up messed and broken causing distress to almost everyone present at the venue.

At dawn the next day, Justine notices that the bright red star has disappeared.

Part Two: “Claire”

Justine has become severely depressed and stays with Claire and John. John explains that the reason for Antares disappearance was the rogue planet Melancholia blocking the star from view.

Melancholia, a large blue planet that had formerly been hidden behind the sun, becomes visible in the sky as it approaches ever closer to Earth.

John is excited about the planet and looks forward to the “fly-by” predicted by scientists.

According to John, Melancholia would pass by the Earth the same way as it passed by Venus and Mercury, however Claire thinks otherwise. Justine claims to possess a kind of special insight or intuition, telling Claire she has had a revelation that life on Earth is evil and that Melancholia has been sent to destroy it.

Claire becomes distraught when it is confirmed that Melancholia is circling back and will collide with Earth after all, and John has committed suicide.

In the final concluding scene Justine, Claire and Leo ( Claire’s son )  enter the rickety wooden shelter as the planet Melancholia looms large.

A shockwave with fire overcomes the characters, destroying the Earth, as shown in the introductory sequence.

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Now leaving aside the pessimistic thought, that there is no point to life when it really has to end some day through death and probably in a way we least expected, makes me recollect Buddhism’s view on Death, I would like to share a few thoughts by Buddha Sakyamuni, Buddhist teachers and Upasaka’s ( lay practitioner’s ).

Knowing very well that death is certain and it is a natural phenomenon that everyone has to face, we should not be afraid of death.

“Life is uncertain – Death is certain” This is a well known saying in Buddhism.

Yet, instinctively, all of us fear death because we do not know how to think of its inevitability. We like to cling to our life and body and so develop too much craving and attachment, this is seen in case of John and Claire, John who took his own life when he realized that he was wrong throughout out about the “fly by” situation and Claire who ran to different directions with her son, trying to make it to a “safe corner” before all on Earth was vaporized.

To be considered free in life, we must also be free from the fear of death. Fear only comes to those who are not able to comprehend the laws of Nature. “Whenever fear arises, it arises in the fool, not in the wise man,” says the Buddha in the Anguttara Nikaya.

As a famous physician, Sir William Osler puts “In my wide clinical experience, most human beings die really without pain or fear.”

Something strange and beautiful happens to men and women when they come to the end of the road. All fear, all horror disappears. It is all part of the goodness of Nature. This is what Justine experiences and hence she was calm even though she saw the planet Melancholia approaching the Earth.

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Attachment to life on earth creates the unnatural fear of death.

The cause of our grief and sorrow is Attachment in all its various forms. If we want to overcome sorrow, we have to give up attachment – attachment not only to persons but also to possessions.

This is the ultimate truth; this is the lesson that death signifies. Attachment provides us many things to satisfy our emotion and to lead a worldly life. But the same attachment becomes in the end the cause of all our sorrows.

Unless we learn this lesson, death can strike us and fill us with terror. The fact is beautifully illustrated by the Buddha, who said:- “Death will take away a man though he is attached to his children and his possessions, just as a great flood takes away a sleeping village.”

This saying implies that if the village had not been asleep but remained awake and alert, the havoc created by the flood could have been avoided.

Why should we think about death? Why should we contemplate it? Not only did the Buddha encourage us to speak about death, he also encouraged us to contemplate it and reflect on it regularly.

We are not used to contemplate death or come to terms with it. What we usually do is to avoid it and live as if we were never going to die.

As long as there is fear of death, life itself is not being lived to its fullest and at its best. So one of the very fundamental reasons for contemplating death, for making this reality fully conscious, is that of overcome fear.

The contemplation of death is not for making us depressed or morbid; it is rather for the purpose of helping to free ourselves from fear.

The second reason is that contemplation of death will change the way we live and our attitudes towards life. The values that we have in life will change quite drastically once we stop living as if we are going to live forever, and we will start living in a quite different way.

The third reason is to develop the ability to approach and face death in the right and peaceful way.

The contemplation of death has three-fold benefits:

Relieving fear

Bringing a new quality to our lives, enabling us to live our lives with proper values; and enabling us to die in dignity,It enables us to live a good life and die a good death.

What else does one need?

Thanks for reading, do watch the film when you have time and share your views.

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Additional Information :

Melancholia Homepage

Melancholia Facebook Page

Melancholia on IMDB

Melancholia (2011) – Official Trailer [HD]

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