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Rapture & Decay: The New Eschatological Cinema, An Introduction. - FoolishPeople

link shared Jan 3, 2012 • 0 comments • 894 views


Over the coming weeks and months I shall be posting a series of articles which explore the history and nature of eschatological thought and how these ideas have come to bear on cinema. Along the way I shall encompass elements of film theory, philosophy, psychology and cultural theory in exploring the concept of time itself and the seemingly inevitable outcome of a dead-end consumer culture, all with a focus on The End (of the world, of time, of capitalism).



Hyperreality I: The Inertial Destiny of the Saturated World



...modern mankind found itself in the midst of a great absence and emptiness of values and yet, at the same time, a remarkable abundance of possibilities -Marshall Berman.


From Adbusters and the anti-capitalist movement to discussions of "post everything syndrome" and more recent analyses of the London riots; the notion that we live in a disorientating, overloaded, media-driven, celebrity-obsessed world is not a new one. Revolutions are televised. Ikea can help us to sleep better (whilst we may experience the beginnings of split personality disorder leading to the erection of international fighting club franchises, at least we won’t be hospitalised after tripping over badly stored shoes on our way to the bathroom in the middle of the night). Plastic mannequins are more attractive than real women (see case of H&M in the media this week). Disneyland is the ultimate escape from handling your hyperactive, unable-to -play-by-themselves children this Christmas. Lonely? Call in the entertainment factor of your mate Dave, available at the flick of a Freeview remote control.



Hyperreality II: Sex, Death & The Cinema of Attractions



Now, I hear you cry, why is she digging up some outdated concept and calling it modern when it is over a decade old? And why is she about to label a very contemporary set of films with said term, when she has herself admitted that the concept is not of this century? Is she saying that is takes, on average, fifteen years for cultural ideas to filter down to the medium of cinema? Is she actually still wearing the same jeans she stole from Camden market in the nineties? And anyway, wasn’t this series of articles meant to be about the end of the world?


No, “well, yes, so?” and yes, respectively. The concept of hyperreality may have been borne of the 20th century but if we are to use it as a lens through which to view the world today then the picture which rears its head is that of an ascension towards the very peak of that state which the term hyperreal so aptly describes, the point of absolute saturation (there‘s a chemistry term on the tip of my tongue right now but as I‘m currently traversing the North Sea my hopes of Googling it are, I‘m afraid, slim) and of an inevitable pummelling, in the very near future (2012?), off some kind of precipice towards the ultimate conclusion of the hyperreality hypothesis - Baudrillard’s “inertial destiny”.



Hyperreality III: Liebestod (or What Exactly Are We Holding Out For?)




"Try as they may to savour the taste of eternity, their thoughts still twist and turn upon the ebb and flow of things in past and future time. But if only their minds could be seized and held steady, they would be still for a while and, for that short moment, they would glimpse the splendour of eternity, which is forever still". - Augustine of Hippo, c. 400 AD.?


It is no secret that the initial idea for Melancholia came to Lars von Trier whilst the filmmaker was being treated for severe depression. More specifically, von Trier was inspired by a theory gleaned from one of his therapists at the time- that depressives and melancholics are more likely to act calmly in violent situations than "happy" people, who have a tendency towards panic. As the Danish film critic Per Juun Carlsen writes in a 2011 interview with von Trier, "Melancholics are ready for it. They know everything is going to hell". Carlsen also observes that von Trier "does not consider Melancholia to be about the end of the world and the human race but about humans acting and reacting under pressure".


Indeed Von Trier openly rejects the way in which Melancholia has been marketed by Hollywood, right down to his own PR department's tagline - "a beautiful film about the end of the world". Instead he makes clear that the film's entire plotline - of a distant planet colliding with Earth and bringing about the end of human life - serves as metaphor for depression and the melancholic state. This is evident particularly with regards to the relationships between characters, the ways in which they interact with one another and the very different ways in which they attempt to cope with the coming apocalypse.


I have already described in a previous article the way in which there is a rising sense, within cultural theory and the cinema of the past few decades, of being on the brink of what some have termed "inertial destiny". This sense is particularly prevalent if you are of what we shall call a "melancholic" disposition (and judging by the statistics we're all depressed nowadays so that probably includes you), if you're a left-wing activist or ponderer, or if you have a stockpile of tinned baked beans in the basement for when 2012 hits hard. But what exactly is it that we are holding out for? Nuclear holocaust? Mass flooding? A supervolcano? An alien invasion? Or, perhaps, planetary collision...?


Contemporary financial crisis porn might drive us wild with its motifs of chaos on the streets and daily despatches from the most recent pockets of doom but as far as wiping us from the face of the planet goes, as yet, it's not much of a contender. Oh yes, we're going to need something much bigger than the end of capital to satisfy our eschatological yearnings...




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