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Commentaries on this Media!

Fantasizing our End through Film

by Ethan Tussey

by Sheila Kunkle for IN MEDIA RES

The two clips I’ve selected here come from two very different films (Woody Allen’s Annie Hall, 1977 and the final scene of Lars von Trier’s Melancholia, 2011), but they both refer to the end of our existence,  and reveal how our fantasies of apocalyptic demise serve to structure our enjoyment.  According to Lacan, the “subject” is already an ontologically virtual category.  It is constituted by way of lack, for while it may appear in the field of the Other (the Symbolic) where it attempts to establish its Meaning, it also contends with the loss of its Being.  What ensues for this virtual subject is a constant anxiety concerning its end; it is a Real that cannot be integrated into the chain of signifiers.  Apocalyptic films allow us to play with our proximity to this Real through various fantasies of how we as individuals, our species, our planet, and even the universe itself, might end.  Enjoyment here is found in the death drive, in experiencing temporality as a loophole, and it is this loophole that puts us outside of both finitude and immortality, allowing us to become somehow indestructible (we can find the solution to the asteroid’s strike, another planet to colonize before earth is destroyed, etc.).

Recent scientific discoveries from the rapidity of global warming, to the possibility of an asteroid striking earth, and from the sun ultimately burning out, to the late-breaking news of the Higgs Boson particle/field, which tells us that we are headed for ultimate doom, are all serving to re-configure our fantasies and thus, also, our form of enjoyment.  Indeed, the clip of Alvy Singer as a child in Annie Hall was embedded in an NPR article entitled: If Higgs Boson Calculations are Right, A Catastrophic 'Bubble' Could End Universe by Eyder Peralta (Feb. 19, 2013). The fore-knowledge of our ultimate fate can enact a superego injunction to Enjoy (!) our present life, as happens with Alvy Singer, it can lead us to seek transcendental meanings, it can enable a lingering melancholia, or, more rarely, in films such as Von Trier’s Melancholia and Don McKellar’s Last Night, it can force us to accept our ultimate demise head on, without the cover of fantasy or the certainty of ultimate meanings. Indeed, as Slavoj Zizek posits in "The Optimism of 'Melancholia'," this is an optimistic film for it forces us to ethically face our end.


Final scene of Melancholia

from Melancholia (2011)
Creator: Lars von Trier
Distributor: Nordisk Film
Posted by Ethan Tussey