Anatomy of melancholia

Robert Sinnerbrink*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


This article analyses some of the aesthetic and philosophical strands of Lars von Trier's Melancholia, focusing in particular on the film's remarkable Prelude, arguing that it performs a complex ethical critique of rationalist optimism in the guise of a neo-italictic allegory of world-destruction. At the same time, I suggest that Melancholia seeks to "work through" the loss of worlds - cinematic but also cultural and natural - that characterises our historical mood, one that might be described as a deflationary apocalypticism or melancholy modernity. From this perspective, Melancholia belongs to a genealogical lineage that links it with two earlier films important for von Trier: Ingmar Bergman's Shame [Skammen] (1968) and Andrei Tarkovsky's The Sacrifice (1986). All three films share a concern with apocalypticism, world-sacrifice, and historical melancholia; but they also explore different responses to the imagined experience of a catastrophic loss of world. By examining these films in relation to Melancholia we can trace the logic of this loss, culminating in Melancholia's radical gesture of world-sacrifice; this aestheticisation of world-destruction has the paradoxical ethical meaning, I suggest, of preparing for a post-humanist beginning.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)111-126
Number of pages16
JournalAngelaki: Journal of the Theoretical Humanities
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2 Oct 2014


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