For reasons even/slightly less important than everything else I’m going to say here, I grew up reading a lot of Revelations. Mostly this was just a function of reading the Bible and quickly realizing that, compared to Revelations, the rest of it was as compelling and comprehensible to child-me as the VCR manual. It was also an early indication that I possessed an illogical, fecund brain, a brain I miss having, the kind of brain that later led me to think, temporarily, that William Blake was a really good poet.
Now if I want to coddle my inbred apocalypticism, I’d rather get in bed with Rimbaud. Or Murakami. Or Joan Didion. Some days—maybe most days—I can’t stand to read anybody who doesn’t think we live in cool beautiful entropy. The world is speeding up and falling apart. No other way I can think of it. If I can’t sleep, I look up “the sixth extinction” and “millenarianism” and “Iran nuclear weapons.” I look up “doomsday” and “Daniel Pinchbeck 2012.” It’s like warm milk to my wannabe nihilist. I look up “irreversible climate change.” When the Guardian tells me it will happen in five years, I hardly think to disbelieve it. I’m as convinced as anyone in this millennial generation, as convinced as anybody in fin-de-siècle, post-Enlightenment England, as convinced as Rodulfus Glaber (R.I.P.), that at this rate our centre (sorry, Americans, “center”) won’t hold.
One day we’ll wake up and one thing will have changed and that one thing will be everything and after that our decline will be inexorable. One day we’ll wake up on the wrong side of the world. Or we already have.
This is easier to see in the movies, right? I no longer subscribe to fiery, Revelationsy, hyper-Romantic and faraway visions of the future; instead for some time I’ve thought the future is, like, now. It’s parallel. One misstep and we’re in it. There are the two moons and the twisted-continuum worlds of Murakami’s 1Q84, which, with its futuristic unconsummated love story, would make a pretty ideal Wong Kar Wei movie (if we live that far, LOL). There are two moons in Another Earth, which I saw this summer, alone in the cinema, so tired and strung-out that sometimes I fell asleep and didn’t know what I was dreaming and what I was seeing; that was perfect. Another Earth looked just like this one. There is another planet, too, in the only film I think really matters this year: Melancholia.
I saw Melancholia amid the first signs of a beautiful fall, in September, in my city, at the Toronto International Film Festival. Of all the films I saw, that was the first one and the one I can’t stop thinking about. Press screenings are full of journalists like me who can’t wait to start talking too loudly about what they’ve just seen, but we were all almost dead-quiet leaving. At the exit I saw a guy I knew and he asked how it was, so I had to sum up my thoughts super-quick: at first I said it was “devastating” or something, but then I said, you know, compared to the literal hell-on-earth end-of-the-world I grew up with, it was practically an escapist fantasy. The guy was like, well, I’m going to see Moneyball, see you around.
What I said then still feels true. Now TIFF, which has a year-round Cinematheque, is putting on a Lars Von Trier retrospective, so I’ve been watching screeners of his old stuff, and Melancholia is by far—by worlds—the least depressing film he’s made. It is lush, so lush, and so colourful, the opposite of cold dead Europa. It is beautiful, even more beautiful than Antichrist before Antichrist gets so ugly you wish you never had eyes. It has Kirsten Dunst in a probably-couture wedding gown on a spectacular estate with Charlotte Rampling for a mom and Charlotte Gainsbourg for a sister and when the grey fog of sadness makes it so she can’t even move, she has a bath. All the best sad women, when confronted with problems they can’t possibly solve, just go take glamorous long baths. It’s definitely how I want to spend my/the last days.
So yeah. Everything is beautiful and then it ends. “We are evil,” says Kirsten Dunst. “We are alone.” Well, duh. But Lars Von Trier isn’t very good at being Christian, and in Melancholia, there is no punishment. No global food shortage. No series of world-crushing tsunamis. No nuclear option. None of the things you think will probably happen if you ever read newspapers. No slow whimpering pathetic natural-disastrous human death. No, Von Trier’s world ends (SPOILER ALERT) with a giant middle finger to T.S. Eliot. Bang. And we’re done.
When you think about it—assuming that, like me, you don’t find it too much crazier to believe in an artist’s view of the apocalypse than a scientist’s—this is a Leibnizian end, the best of all possible ends. It’s something to believe and to hope in, something to stay up for. I wouldn’t mind.