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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Wednesday, June 24, 2020

entry arrow10:00 AM | The Film Meme No. 60

[60th of 100]. There is a reason why my favorite genre of film is the disaster movie, and not just the kind where people are in peril in enclosed spaces, like The Poseidon Adventure or The Towering Inferno or Airport. I prefer the cataclysmic kind, where disaster is Armageddon in its reach: 2012, The Day After Tomorrow, The Core, Deep Impact. Showy in their epic destruction of the world, their appeal for me lies in this paradox: they give me comfort. And this has a lot to do, admittedly, with my mental health. The jagged edges of mental health have no lack for cinematic representation. Madness is the landscape of terror in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, or claustrophobic disgust in Repulsion. With more nuanced takes, we have depictions of bipolar disorder in Silver Linings Playbook, borderline personality disorder in Girl, Interrupted, compulsion in Black Swan, autism in Rain Man, paranoid schizophrenia in A Beautiful Mind, Alzheimer’s disease in Still Alice, obsessive compulsive disorder in The Aviator, and others. We make good subjects for film, especially of the Oscar-bait variety. Well and good. Then there's depression. A lot of movies have as characters depressed people of all sorts -- but for me, the cinematic epic of depression has got to be this 2011 film from Lars von Trier. He has plumbed into the depravities of humans in such polarizing films as Breaking the Waves, The Idiots, Dancer in the Dark, Dogville, Antichrist, Nymphomaniac, and The House That Jack Built, and pursuing their unraveling in formalistic experiments of such audacity. It is only fitting that he would be the one to inject humanity into the numbing reality of depression. The film rings so true; the first time I saw it, it was disturbing but it felt very much like my own biography. I felt seen, and most of all, I felt understood. I've been battling depression and anxiety for most of my adult life: the condition exists as a dark cloud that has made permanent residence in my head, a hovering presence that gets dispelled only once in a while, when I'm lucky, and only for a few minutes or so, usually in my waking moments when the waking world has yet to unleash its tentacles. I've learned to live with it, notwithstanding the days of paranoia and paralysis it can sometimes demand. ["This tastes like ash," she sobs as she tries to eat something.] But I have gone through life functioning like I'm the very figure of stability when in reality I'd much rather stab a fork into my hand or retreat to the refuge of bed. And we don't tell anyone, of course, because we know too well the unhelpful advise we'd be getting: "Just snap out of it. Happiness is a choice." In the film, our depressed heroine gets exactly that advise in the beginning. Part 1 of the film follows Justine, played by Kirsten Dunst, who in the course of her wedding day, succumbs to the worst of her melancholy, despite the measured ministrations of her sister Claire. Justine's ensuing breakdown becomes a searing disruption to her family, and renders her incapacitated. Part 2 follows Claire, played by Charlotte Gainsbourg, the happily-settled mentally stable one of the duo, who is slowly reduced to frantic nerves at the prospect of Earth colliding with a rogue planet named Melancholia. Claire's frantic end comes in contrast with Justine who now embodies a strange calmness as she gathers her sister and nephew together to await the fiery end of the world. This is what the movie ultimately gifts us as insight to our condition: for a lot of depressives, our melancholy springs from knowing a world which cannot see the dark jumble in our heads. But when the world staggers towards disaster, we may be the most prepared to take in that reality, simply because it's just the world aligning to our mental chaos. ["The earth is evil," Justine tells Claire at the apex of their reversal, "We don't need to grieve for it. Nobody will miss it."] Affirmed, we settle to calmness, not necessarily resolved, but nonetheless resigned to the sweet inevitability of it all -- and perhaps, like Claire, bathe naked, in supplication, to the glow of a deadly planet. Then we make do, perhaps to Wagner's Tristan und Isolde. This film is the ultimate disaster movie, and it's a comfort. What's the film?

For the introduction to this meme, read here.

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