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Watch: Philosopher Slavoj Žižek Explains Why Lars Von Trier's 'Melancholia' Is "Profoundly Optimistic"

by Kevin Jagernauth
July 30, 2012 5:59 PM
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Melancholia Slavoj Žižek

If you know someone in a university who is studying for some kind of liberal arts degree, chances are they've mentioned Slavoj Žižek. To call him "popular" wouuld be overstating it, but as far as contemporary philosophers go with name recognition, he's one of the few that actually have it. Entertaining, and yes, thought provoking, Žižek has often viewed/used pop culture and social/political changes to explore deeper meaning, so naturally, he has an opinion about Lars Von Trier's downer "Melancholia"....or is it a downer?

Speaking with Big Think, Žižek explains why Justine's acceptance of death in the face of the impending end of the world is a "profoundly optimistic" thing. It's certainly an interesting way to read the film, so check out his thoughts below. Agree or disagree? Let us know in the comments section and if you like what you hear from Žižek be sure to check out the documentaries "The Pervert's Guide To Cinema" or "Examined Life." [Set Yourself Aflame]

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  • Pat | August 1, 2012 8:15 AMReply

    Optimistic, pessimistic doesn't really matter Melancholia was one of the worst movies I have ever had the displeasure of viewing. Von Trier's characters acted in ways that were completely unbelievable. The only redeeming element of the movie were some beautiful visuals that only slightly distract the viewer from the hollow characters.

    Skip Melancholia and see Another Earth instead.

  • ... | July 31, 2012 9:39 AMReply

    Actually, I think the real reason for the heroine's lack of despair (it's hardly optimism) is that people suffering from depression are much better able to handle terrible circumstances. Beautiful film though.

  • StephenM | August 1, 2012 11:10 PM

    But that kind of praise of depression and the depressive worldview is a terrible thing to advocate. I've been depressed, and the only way you can "deal with suffering" is by not caring either way. It's a terrible way to live, and it leaves you unproductive and un-compassionate towards those around you. It's a fundamentally narcissistic attitude, and I say that without intending to downplay the difficulty of the condition. But the reason depressed people go to therapists and take medication is because it's a BAD thing. The movie's ridiculous idea that it's better than being healthy when the world's going to end is stupid, and the movie is fundamentally narcissistic and solipsistic in its attitudes. If you want a movie that illustrates a truly spiritual and moral understanding of a possible end of the world, watch Andrei Tarkovsky's The Sacrifice--a far more beautiful, profound, life-affirming film, where it is the ability to care and feel and love others that is the greatest response to apocalypse, and those who become wrapped up in themselves and their own problems are criticized.

  • Arch | August 1, 2012 8:35 AM

    "taking scenes out of context to illustrate his theories"... Which basically is what postmodern film theory gurus have been doing for the last decades.

  • zatopek | July 31, 2012 12:23 PM

    Yes, and that's what Von Trier has said also, but Zizek uses the film as a kind of metaphorical example of Heideggerian being-toward-death. One should keep the finitude of everything in sight when making ethical decisions etc. If you think we can live forever, then that can become sort of nihilistic or egotistical attitude where you just do what you like without care for the consequences.

    I'm not saying that that's the right way to see the film. Zizek uses movies this way, many times taking scenes out of context to illustrate his theories.

  • tyrannosaurus max | July 31, 2012 3:49 AMReply

    haters gonna hate.
    Slavoj gonna keep doin' his thing.
    More power to him.

  • Stevo the Magnificent | July 31, 2012 12:04 AMReply

    Zizek is a disgusting little troll of a leftie nut-job, this is a guy who actually DEFENDED the killings of the French Revolution as an exercise in democracy... no wonder Hitler had such a low opinion of Slavs!

  • Mober the magnificent | March 24, 2013 7:27 AM

    You need to read some more history my friend, that view ón the context of that revolution is hardly controversial, and it was one of the catalysts for the American revolution, please get of the internet and open a book

  • Helm | July 30, 2012 8:24 PMReply

    Slavoj Zizek is nothing but an intellectual scam artist, don't give him any publicity.

  • Naommon | July 30, 2012 6:13 PMReply

    100% agree,. Detachement, acceptance, peace of mind, Lovelife!
    Best movie ever!

  • Whoa, Watch The Excess Saliva, Dude | July 30, 2012 6:11 PMReply

    God, this guy is worse that standing near the guy who writes for Bleeding Cool. Gotta get an umbrella or a windbreaker for when he talks.

  • David | August 3, 2012 12:35 AM

    Way to limit interesting things/people/ideas in your life!

  • Wes | July 30, 2012 6:09 PMReply

    This guy is nonsense.

  • Bik | July 15, 2014 2:28 PM

    StepheNM is right, I agree that Tarkovsky's Sacrifice is far far better film that von Trier's Melancholia. there is one thing I would like to point out, in this movie the Life on earth is conspicuously termed as evil, and that's the reason the character played (just can't remember her name! my apology!) by Kirsten Dunst is portrayed as such, and she actually speaks it in the film. Out of more deep depression? May be! May be not! May be she just does not care! Which can again be attributed to her "more into" hopelessly incurable depression! She is fatefully afflicted with it. It 's another question why in the first place the character is introduced! Human condition? Fate? Von trier knows better. But it's right the movie does not 'feel' optimistic at all, at any level, even if Slavoj Žižek defends it. Lars Von Trier is one among the very few who has master strokes when it comes to movie making in our time. And he carries the true legacy of Tarkovsky albeit in twisted tangled threads which create a tunnel through which every spectator goes when he/she watches his movies and the views of the world and of ourselves alters in a significant way, such is the impact, one may say. It may logically seem that that's what (like every other film maker) Von Trier really wants. His "Breaking the waves" is a really good movie. But this Melancholia, does he points out to something really different? Possible, but again analytically one can not (if not always) agree with Slavoj Žižek. And if life on earth is "evil" then everything is, and the whole of creation has other meaning, which rightfully can not be accepted (yes our desire is also involved,it matters what we desire in our heart! we are part of the creation! which desires quite different things!) and which sounds not optimistic at all. A sinister resonance rings thorough everything that exists and thereby whichever way Slavoj Žižek may try to prove other wise,the underlying philosophy of the film is not OpTimistic at all. Even if everything happened by a mere accident human being has something which can always make things better!

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