Melancholia is often confused with depression. Depression is lack of emotional response, feeling nothing, not caring and not seeing the point.

Melancholia is a definite emotional response, the feeling that life sucks.

AKA Sadness.

Melancholia would still appear to be a far more apt and evocative word for the blacker forms of the disorder, but (Melancholia) was usurped by a noun with a bland tonality... "Brainstorm" has, unfortunately, been preempted to describe, somewhat jocularly, intellectual inspiration. But something along these lines is needed. Told that someone's mood disorder has evolved into a storm--a veritable howling tempest in the brain -- is indeed what a clinical depression resembles like nothing else.

William Styron

There is an element of sadness inherent to both the terms "depression" and "Melancholia". Though the two are even today used as synonyms in some contexts, "Melancholia" has become archaic in this sense of its meaning, and it has become inappropriate to use it as a wholly equal synonym--it is used today as something vaguer and less certain.

The history of the use of the word Melancholia goes back at least as far as 30 A.D., when Aulus Cornelius Celsus first defined it as a "depression caused by black bile". 1,200 years later, Moses Maimonides became the first to declare that Melancholia could be traced to a physical "disease entity"; this is significant, because it marks a surety that this condition is indeed a very human ailment, rather than a natural facet of an individual's personality. That Melancholia, a complex, indecipherable malaise, could become a diagnosis, this implies quite a bit about human nature and science's new-found willingness to explore and define it. Suddenly, humanity was quite certain that there was a "correct" state of mental being, that an individual's "brooding over one particular set of ideas" was something requiring treatment; with this, an individual's unhappiness could now be declared senseless and unjustified, a disorder.

Once an extremely general term denoting depression, "ill-grounded fears, delusions, and brooding over one particular subject", as well as just about any non-immediately-physical ailment, Melancholia today has been differentiated from "psychotic depression" by the fact that psychotic depression tends to occur in people who are "worriers" and whose "stability under stress (is) tenuous". Also, psychotic depression, unlike Melancholia, is often marked by psychomotor disturbance, constipation, and "morbid cognitions (involving guilt and a sense of deserving punishment)".

Melancholia is a form of depression in which either no symptoms of mania exist, or no symptoms of mania have yet been recognized. The operative word in the understanding of the term is provided by Webster: "brooding", "to focus the attention on a subject persistently and moodily."

*Don't like spoilers? Spoiler alert...although, you can't really spoil the experience of this film.*

Melancholia is a film directed by Lars von Trier. The film is split into two acts.

The first act begins with a long take of a limo trying to get up a narrow drive to a wedding. It cannot make a tight turn because there are stone pylons on the inside of the driveway preventing the limo from making the turn. Eventually the groom, Michael, played by Alexander Skarsgard, gives it a go and fails. Then the bride, Justine, played by Kirsten Dunst, gives it her best and fails to make the turn, but does succeed in damaging the limo. It was comical. It was the last time I laughed during this film.

The wedding begins and there is an unease. It isn't certain what the uneasiness is, but it's present. Slowly, we start to realize that Justine has some problems. She steals away frequently to be by herself and away from the commotion. During a time when we feel she should be happy she is instead blank. There are some low-key confrontations between tertiary characters that are swept away by other guests. The viewer is given an idea that things are not quite right, but never enough to place a concrete emotion to what is happening.

The movie is then dull for a very long time as it follows Justine's battle with her melancholia. Unfortunately, to have a protagonist with this disease makes for an incredibly boring and at times infuriating film as she makes wild choices throughout her excruciatingly long wedding. Everyone at the wedding seems fed up with the bride and her personality, but no one says anything about it. Eventually Justine fucks some random dude on the golf course's 19th green. There is probably some significance to this being hole 19, but I am uncertain what that may have been. As dawn breaks Michael realizes it was a worthless endeavour to attempt to win Justine's love and give her happiness, so he leaves. Justine seems cool with this decision. Shortest wedded bliss ever.

Act two begins. Some time has passed.

Justine is far worse than before. Her melancholia has consumed her. We learn that a new planet has appeared in the sky. John, played by Kiefer Sutherland, is an astronomer and Justine's brother-in-law. He assures everyone that the planet will not hit Earth, but will begin to recede. He gives his wife, Claire, played by Charlotte Gainsbourg, a wire hangar bent to form a circle. He informs her she should hold it up everyday to the incoming planet and will see that each day the planet takes up less of the circle. Claire does this. She is put at ease as what John says seems to be true. Justine bathes nude on a rock at night in the light of the incoming planet. Although her mental state is wrecked, she seems comfortable with the coming doom of the world. Whereas everyone else is short of breath, she develops a primal lust at the imminent destruction of everything. It's as though her disease has prepared her for this. Oh, and whoever named the planet decided to go with Melancholia. How hopeful.

John offs himself in the horse barn. Claire freaks out. She realizes John has made the circle on the hangar larger each day and in fact the planet has been getting closer. She goes berserk. She runs around like crazy as though some magical land will appear that isn't going to be destroyed in the imminent collision with the planet Melancholia. Claire is suffering much like her sister. Because Justine is so used to this, she manages to create a false barrier using her "magic" to ward off the incoming Melancholia at the insistence of Claire's son, Leo. Justine used to play with Leo in this manner, making magical places, but she stopped once she suffered her breakdown. Now that all is hopeless, she recognizes where she can help, to bring a false sense of security. To make the final moments at least peaceful.

This movie is not entertaining. It's well-acted, well-written and is beautiful, but it's dull. However, I couldn't stop thinking about this film for a few days after watching. Mainly, I wondered if there was any way to make this same movie, but have it be entertaining. Ultimately, I decided that no, there really wasn't a way to have this subject made into an entertaining movie in the manner it's approached. The movie itself is a manifestation of the sickness suffered by the characters brought on both internally, Justine's sickness, and externally, the impending collision with the planet Melancholia and the destruction of Earth.

The purpose of this film was to make a simple point. A person suffering from melancholy can no more feel better than a person can feel fine that Earth will be destroyed. To truly suffer from a disease is to feel as out of control as the destruction of everything. In the end, we will be both internally and externally decimated. We can pretend everything will be okay, but it won't. There is nothing that can be done to stop the sickness.

Mel`an*cho"li*a (?), n. [L. See Melancholy.] Med.

A kind of mental unsoundness characterized by extreme depression of spirits, ill-grounded fears, delusions, and brooding over one particular subject or train of ideas.


© Webster 1913.

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