The fake cosmos - part 1

"Melancholia", by Lars von Trier

Two strong and very impressive recent films: “Melancholia” and “The Three of Life” base their philosophizing and the artistic “umpf” on enveloping human stories in a grandiose perspective of the cosmos. The stories however resonate with us predominantly because they access our own human reference points, fears and concerns. Be it a complex relationship between two sisters (“Melancholia”) or dynamics of growing up (“The Three of Life”) the screen breaths vitality, genuineness and psychological insights - all convincingly presented.

Then comes the cosmos. Promoting “Melancholia” Lars von Trier talks about his decision to put the end of the story up front so that the viewers know from the very beginning the finale. The issue of how much of the ending in a given story its consumers want to know, should know, expect to know or suspect could in itself be a subject for another post or even a Ph.D. dissertation. :-)

For now let’s just stick to von Trier’s way of presenting the ending, that is to the computer generated clash of the planet called “Melancholia” into Earth. This clash, in what will become indisputable only later in the film, ends life as we know it in a spectacular bang.

The opening of the film situates the CGI clash image of the end of the world in the company of art inspired tableaux taking their cues from art (Ophelia) or stylizing them as a high brow art situations. The opening therefore does not represent reality as such but rather dives into the territory of the possible, the feared, the subconscious. In this company the earth crash does not announce the reality of the ending, it only shows the possibility or a fear of a terrible thing coming. That’s why I don’t think the opening puts the end up front, rather it telegraphs in a teasing way a potential of something bad. Which, in a way, is much more interesting than "the end at the beginning" maneuver.


Documentary hubris

Recently I’ve watched a few documentaries which did not impress me. Why do movies about fascinating events, people, problems often end up lame? Where does the lack of storytelling talent come from?

One of the working hypothesis is that it is generated by the inflated ego of the makers, who by not being able or not wanting to step aside, do not allow their subjects to fully shine. It’s plain hubris and the lack of humbleness on the part of those whose duties is to report, show, facilitate meetings between the audiences and their subjects.

Directors have “ideas”, present their own “insights”, are too impatient to think things through - and disasters strike.

Perhaps talent as the ability to step aside, to let things that are talked about in the particular piece of work come with full independence, bloom and their own reasons. On the other hand filmmakers can be paralyzed by the importance, statue, scope of their subjects and don’t seek interesting ways into the subject matters.

Clearly some balance must be achieved between the assertiveness of a storyteller who’s reporting what is and his skills to listen and watch. Without the assertiveness of a teller a film falls apart. So what is the role of the self in storytelling? What does it really mean: “a story cannot be told objectively, somebody has to tell it as there is no no objective reporting?”