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Tag Archive: Melancholia


By Jason McClain (@JTorreyMcClain)

Dealing with depression from both sides presents an interesting quandary.  As a friend to people that may be suffering from it, you want to be there, you want to support them, but when people are depressed they just aren’t that interesting.  A quote in the opening paragraph of Roger Ebert’s All the Lonely People says it best, “You know what a bore is, Travis. Someone who deprives you of solitude without providing you with companionship.”

On the other side, when you are depressed, getting out of bed seems like a chore, let alone leaving the house.  If that’s the way you feel, no wonder when you go out and about and try to socialize and lift your spirits, the only thing you’re thinking about is your couch, since going to sleep in your bed at 5 pm feels wrong no matter what your mental state of mind.  You know you’re a bore, but you don’t care or don’t understand how people don’t see it and you just have to occupy yourself until 10 pm somehow, so you can sleep for ten hours.  You never know, tomorrow might be better.

It doesn’t feel like there is a difference between depression and melancholia, and doing a quick bit of research, considering depression is used in the definition of melancholia, I’d say no difference.  There’s even a combination of the two into melancholic depression.  So would they look the same?  Could you tell the difference between melancholia and depression?  Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia gave me a quick “no” as the answer to that question.

Charles Corbet's depiction of Melancholia (1910)

I’ve never been married, but having been to weddings, probably not too much like the one in Melancholia, but definitely in the ballpark, I understand the urge to go take a long bath.  I understand going for a walk on a golf course.  There’s something nice about going to be alone when no one is around rather than being alone with hundreds of people surrounding you.  It’s why the bed or bath is such a welcome sight.  It’s why you continually look at your watch wondering what the perfect time to excuse yourself without hurting anyone’s feelings is.  If you can hold out for one more song, one more hit from the 80s, one more choreographed dance song, you can leave and walk to your room, drive home or just run, literally and figuratively.

I’m trying to think of another film that captures that feeling so well.  Looking at the profile of major league pitcher Taylor Buchholz and his bout with depression, you see a couple of the same symptoms in the performance of Kirsten Dunst (and the writing behind her acting): extreme irritability and the inability to laugh.  If we saw the back story that led to her wedding, I’m sure we’d also get a glimpse of her faking happiness to such a degree that her future groom truly believed she loved him and wanted to marry him.  Only at the reception did he finally see something different, as she couldn’t fake it any more.  Most everyone encouraged her to do so for various reasons, not least of which, because of all the money being spent by her future brother-in-law (played very well by Kiefer Sutherland.)

As you battle with faking it, with your irritability, your self-criticism and an occasional malaise, forgetting the bed and just sleeping every day and night on the couch seems like the perfect solution because you can go to sleep and wake up with the TV to keep you company.  That could be the result of loneliness, which is a separate thing, as this analysis of the Community episode Advanced Dungeons & Dragons points out, but can feel and look the same.  In fact, author Casey Jones puts it very succinctly, “Depression is anger pointed at yourself.  Loneliness… man, that’s just despair.”  The question becomes, what if your depression causes your loneliness or you’re depressed and angry with yourself because you can’t make or keep friends?  They can feed off of each other and I would say there is probably some high correlation between the two things.

As you can see from the collection of links (and the upcoming ones) I want to see how others deal with these same issues. I want to watch Melancholia even though I know it is going to be heavy.  I want to read Darkness Visible to see about William Styron’s struggle to overcome depression.  I want to read about how Rob Delaney learned to cope with it and come to grips to taking medication to help him.  I want to read about Stanley Jefferson, former major league player and New York City policeman who was on duty in Manhattan during 9/11.  I want to see or read about the ways they learned to cope or how they struggle to find a way to cope, from watching endless amounts of TV, to baths, to drinking or to just finding something to fill up every moment of your time so that you don’t have to think about anything.

Edvard Munch (1891)

Maybe you’re the same way, you like to see these things too as it helps to know that you have company. Maybe there are other people that consider watching every episode of Law and Order: Criminal Intent on USA Network replays over a jam-packed month to be a worthwhile pursuit.  Maybe it’s because you see hope in some of the stories and you can feel hope for the stories of others because you pushed through that stage of depression yourself.

On the other hand you may not want to know how some people suffer.  You don’t even want to see hints of it because those views might generate powerful emotions within you that you can’t hide.  You don’t want to think about it in others because it will remind you of what you see in yourself, the fear, the anxiety, the worry.  You might break down and cry in front of someone and generate more anger at yourself for showing weakness like Buchholz.  Then again, you can try like he did to be around people, regular people, happy people so that you can forget all of those things that are wrong with you and you can pretend to be happy and maybe, just maybe, that dream of happiness will come true.  It’s possible.  As much as we think we know about the human mind and body, we still learn more and more every day and maybe a study will show that happiness rubs off.  You can sense it and feel it and happiness of others becomes whole in you. You at last become whole again.

Albrecht Durer's Melancholia (1514)

Still, the opposite of that is not to be around those happy people, cheerfully going about their daily lives because then you see the emptiness in your own.  By being around them it reminds you about how unhappy you are and so then you close yourself off, you seclude yourself because the pain of seeing people is too much.  Sometimes it feels better to feel sad; to know there is something wrong with you and to know it needs to be addressed.  Wallowing in it makes it more visible in your own mirror and may motivate you to do something about it.  You shut yourself off to find this point in yourself and then the loneliness enters your life.  Then a different vein of self-loathing exists for your depression to tap into and a different cycle starts anew.

I slipped into using the second person in this essay pretty easily because I realized that doing so made writing about it easier.  I never know what a different day will bring.  Maybe it’s a day I want to be around people. Maybe it’s a day where I don’t.  Maybe it’s a day where the idea of even taking off my clothes to shower seems like a chore.  Maybe it’s a day where buying new underwear sounds so much easier than sorting clothes, carrying them to the washer, carrying them to the dryer and then putting them away.  Maybe it’s a day when I write 2000 words on a subject and reward myself with video games.  Maybe it’s a day where I just play video games and criticize myself for not writing anything.  Maybe it’s a day I play video games and feel happy because I just have fun. Maybe it’s ten days in a row and the only thing I wrote was emails.  Maybe even emails get tough to write.  Maybe I’ll just watch 12 hours of Psych, Doctor Who or the whole run of Spaced and laugh a little bit, for once.  When I say “you” I mean me, though I do know a few examples of friends that do or have dealt with depression and or loneliness.  I’ve dealt with it a few ways myself.  It’s trying to find the way to deal with it the best.  So, like Kirsten Dunst’s character, maybe I’ll work in baths.  I’ve tried long showers.  They help some.  Every day leads me closer to a solution as I work through ways to overcome my own depression and my solutions are definitely better than a meteor coming to strike the Earth, I’m sure.  Definitely sure on that one.  For with the dawn of a new day, there’s always hope that it will be better.

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By Jason McClain (@JTorreyMcClain)

I love to rank the movies that I’ve seen every year.  I also love to have caveats like this list doesn’t include Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Martha Marcy may Marlene, or Hugo as I haven’t seen them yet and I want to do so.

I rank the movies as I see them and try to figure out where they fit in the whole spectrum of the movies that I’ve seen over the year.  I toyed with showing the top five, then the top ten, then the top sixteen, and then I said, screw it, I’ll just give you the whole list so that you can see it in its full context.  You can see what I see and how they rank against each other in my mind.  One slight mathematical type note – don’t think of this list as a normal distribution.  It could be skewed left or right depending on your vantage point, and in this case has more movies toward the quality side and that have definite cool moments.

So, without further ado, here is my list of movies in the order that I enjoyed them and that I saw released in 2011.

  • Midnight in Paris
  • Melancholia
  • Thor
  • Attack the Block
  • Captain America
  • The Guard
  • Young Adult
  • Shame
  • The Artist
  • Insidious
  • Cedar Rapids
  • Rango
  • Bridesmaids
  • Tree of Life
  • Hanna
  • Submarine
  • 13 Assassins
  • Paranormal Activity 3
  • Win Win
  • Drive
  • The Descendants
  • The Trip
  • X-Men: First Class
  • Everything Must Go
  • The Adjustment Bureau
  • Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
  • Source Code
  • Cave of Forgotten Dreams
  • Paul
  • Unknown
  • Moneyball
  • Contagion
  • Super 8
  • Sucker Punch
  • Hall Pass
  • Cowboys and Aliens
  • I Saw the Devil
  • Horrible Bosses

If I were making a list of the top ten movies of the year to nominate for the Best Picture Oscars (announced Tuesday, January 24th at 5:30 am PT) I’d take the first ten movies. 

However, knowing that superhero movies, action movies, comedies, animated films and horror movies rarely, if ever, get nominated, here is the list of what I would say are the ten best films of 2011 that I think deserve a best picture Academy Award nomination and would have a realistic chance at earning one.

  • Midnight in Paris
  • Melancholia
  • The Guard
  • Young Adult
  • Shame
  • The Artist
  • Tree of Life
  • Hanna
  • Submarine
  • Win Win

(Yes, I know that Hanna is pretty much an action movie and Submarine is a darn funny comedy, but they seem like nominated films more than Attack the Block and Bridesmaids.  Also, I’m not paying attention to release date and box office gross, which means it may be even less realistic than just eliminating certain genres of films.)

So, that’s it?  That’s all that I have to say?  It wouldn’t be much of an essay then as it is mainly just two lists.  I think you can find out just about anything you want to find out about the movies by just looking for them online.  You can also find better prognostications as far as the movies most likely to be nominated.  (Hint: The Descendants and Moneyball.)  So, what I’ll give you instead to wrap up the year 2011 in movies is a list of the great moments of these films.  I’ll avoid spoilers and just give you hints of the awesome in no particular order.

Don Cheadle and Brendan Gleeson meeting for the first time in The Guard.  At the beginning of this movie, Don Cheadle’s character holds a meeting for the police force of a small Irish town to give them more information of a drug-smuggling ring.  The interaction between these two great actors had to have been one of the funniest things I saw all year.

Dancing in The Artist.  I went to see this movie with my good friend Kelvin and we agreed that though we didn’t laugh much, when we left the theater we knew that we had been smiling to ourselves in the dark for the past two hours.  The scenes where Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo danced were the ones that made me smile the most.

The meeting in the garage between Bryan Cranston and Albert Brooks in Drive.  I’m a big fan of Breaking Bad.  I’m also a big fan of Albert Brooks, going all the way back to Real Life and Modern Romance.  When these two are in a scene together, you know both have the chops for comic acting and now you can add Brooks to Cranston as far as dramatic acting as well.

Charlize Theron sitting down to write at her computer in Young Adult.  Every time Charlize sat down to write in this film, it struck home.  The struggle to sometimes find inspiration and to reward yourself with a distraction for limited reasons I think parallel anyone that has ever sat and tried to do something creative.

The invention of a meteor distance device by the son in Melancholia.  Picking a moment from this movie is tough, there are cool visuals, there are moments that break your heart and there are parts that are darkly funny.  However, seeing Keifer Sutherland exude so much pride over his son’s invention and the knowledge that we have as an audience makes that moment just about perfect.

The Wire references in Cedar Rapids.  Isiah Whitlock Jr. played Senator Clay Davis in The Wire, you know, that show that all your friends tell you to watch once they’ve seen it.  Well, that show exists in Cedar Rapids and the references they make to it using Isiah made me smile as a fan of both this movie and that awesome TV show.

The meetings between the young kids and the nurse in Attack the Block.  It’s been a bit since I saw the movie, but one thing I liked was the relationship that developed between the kids on the block and the nurse that they accost at the beginning of the movie.  The moviemakers gave it time to develop and because of that, the relationship worked instead of being a cliché.

The battle in 13 Assassins.  It’s a battle for a town with samurais. It may be sacrilege for me to say it, but I think it may top the same scene from Seven Samurai.

The scene about Jeremy Brown in Moneyball.  They use real minor league footage for this scene and it is the one that truly moved me from this whole movie. It was at this point that the characters played by Jonah Hill and Brad Pitt (as Peter Brand and Billy Beane) finally connected with me.

Any scene with the rotating camera in Paranormal Activity 3.  I don’t care what people think of the Paranormal Activity movies.  They spook me out.  The addition of the camera that rotates so that you lose sight of parts of the house heightened my scared anticipation every time they cut to it.

Those are my ten.  Let me know if you have any that you’d add to my list.