Sunday, February 2, 2014

Apocalypse, Melancholia, and Transcendence

CC Jean Stimmell
Last Friday evening, on what happened to be the Chinese New Year, we watched Melancholia directed by the controversial Danish director Lars Von Trier and starring Kirsten Dunst. The movie had a profound effect on me not only while I was watching it but afterward: I had vivid dreams about it that night, waking up the next morning still in dream reality, feeling like Justine, the heroine of the movie, enveloped in melancholia, barely able to move because of rapidly growing vines that were wrapping themselves around her body and legs. The sensation was so disturbing and like nothing I had ever felt that I told Russet I though I might be having some sort of medical emergency.

But my emergency wasn’t medical: it was a spiritual!

While some might attempt to interpret this movie more in terms of a cosmic apocalypse resulting in the physical destruction of the Planet Earth, the movie is more of a metaphor about a woman suffering from melancholia (major depression) who has a spiritual transformation – something that could be describes as a personal apocalypse.

There is supporting evidence for my view.

The word ‘apocalypse’ has not always mean destruction, damnation, and the end of the world. Originally in Greek, it meant “lifting of the veil" or "revelation"... A disclosure of something hidden from the majority of mankind in an era dominated by falsehood and misconception.2

Jungian analysts consider the process of ‘apocalypse’ very important, viewing the phenomenon as a fundamental pattern or archetype underlying all human behavior; Jungians retain aspects of both definitions mentioned above, each of which is perfectly expressed in the movie:
• The coming together of energies in a momentous event that moves us toward growth and increased consciousness
• The shattering of the world as it has been, followed by its reconstitution3

In fact, the renowned Jungian analyst, Edward  Edinger, considered the advent of apocalypse to be a necessary ingredient to successful treatment with his patients: “Every depth analysis is a mini-apocalypse.”Certainly, Melancholia was a mini-apocalypse for me.

Melancholia initially affected me in a highly-charged, schizophrenic sort of way, tearing me apart with conflicting emotions of ecstasy (the hypnotic beauty of the blue rogue planet looming closer and closer but then not crashing into the earth with an explosion of annihilation but with a gentle erotic merging like two cells replicating) while – at the same time – of absolute terror (the shattering of my world as I had always known it).

The effect on my state of being and emotions was similar in many ways to my first reaction to viewing Hannah Yata’s painting, Monarch. As I wrote at the time:

 "This painting by Hanna Yata shocks my sensibilities, conjuring up in my imagination bipolar images of the best of times and the worse, of being and nothingness, of the beginning and the end.

"The Monarch strikes me as an entrancing fantasy of stunning, evocative, erotic beauty and, at the same time, an apocalyptic nightmare of our planet’s last gasp, a final brilliant flash of orgasmic pyrotechnics as all life on earth – each species exquisite and irreplaceable – fades into extinction never to be seen again..."5

These wrenching emotions have subsided over the last week. Now the transformational aspects of Melancholia’s apocalypse are settling into my marrow, replacing the rushing adrenaline of fear and ecstasy with a renewed sense of peace and existential faith.

I feel like Justine, the heroine of the movie, is a role model in how she overcomes her inertia and finds the faith to take charge as the blue rogue planet hurtles closer and closer to Earth. She is not only able to dissuade her loved ones from giving up or killing themselves but shows them how to build a magic teepee and find safe refuge inside.

And that, strange as it may seem, is the core source of my renewed sense of peace and faith: the magic teepee.

Despite what science or religion may claim, the best refuge of last resort – and ultimately the only one that works – is  a sacred canopy each of us must weave from our own imagination, a symbolic ritual that gives our life – especially in the face of death – meaning.

1 The central theme of Stanislav Grof’s book Spiritual Emergency, is “the idea that some of the dramatic experiences and unusual states of mind that traditional psychiatry disguises and treats as mental diseases are actually crises of personal transformation, or ‘spiritual emergencies.’”
3 Edinger, Archetype of the Apocalypse; also as discussed in the live Webinar on1/18/14, At the Brink: What we fear and why
4 Edinger, Archetype of the Apocalypse

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