Impressions of Depression: Watch How Lars Von Trier Manipulates Cinematic Time to Convey Mental Illness (Video)

Slow motion: For people with clinical depression, it’s the human brain’s own in-built special effect.

A sense of warped, skewed and elongated time is often reported by those suffering from this mental illness, and in Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia, this phenomenon is explored in the space and temporality of the film’s beats and visual style. In the video essay below by The Nerd Writer, Melancholia: Depression on Film,” Melancholia is considered as a case study of how narrative incoherence, while polarizing among audiences, can actually strengthen a film’s representation of a disease that “happens when your identity—that sense of the relationship you have with the world around you—becomes untethered, unfocused.”

The video’s breakdown of how Von Trier designs Melancholia‘s wedding sequence is instructive particularly for moviemakers who want to experiment with the ways in which the illusion of “continuous time” can be disrupted and distorted. In the case of Melancholia, this effect is made possible by filtering continuous time through the lens of one character whose perception is out of alignment with that of the others’ around her/him.

Von Trier’s artistic references, detailed in the video, also provide clues into how both the director—for whom Melancholia‘s story is deeply personal—and the film itself view the elusive properties of depression. Such paintings as John Everett Millais’ “Ophelia,” Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s “The Hunters in the Snow,” as well as films like Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris and Alain Resnais’ Last Year at Marienbad, are held up as visual parallels to Melancholia‘s mise-en-scene, which compellingly creates the feeling that his depressed characters’ body weight is suddenly heavier, and that their memories are becoming increasingly disorganized.

Watch the video to see how one’s internal loss of control and detachment from the external world can be communicated to audiences through visual techniques, musical motifs and narrative complication. MM

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