Can Disaster Films be Feminine? : Lars von Trier's challenge to the male gaze

Item Type Presentation
Abstract Like any artifact, end-time narratives have historic and cultural specificity. This paper will address the ways in which Lars von Trier's celebrated 2011 film Melancholia gives expression to such specificities, both through the film's inscription into particular generic conventions, and through its construction of gendered discourses on sense making, social behavior and "visual pleasure" (Mulvey). End-time narrative film can with little exception be placed into four thematic (non-discrete) categories: religious mythology, extra-terrestrial invasion, self-induced global disaster, and natural disaster. While both of the first are characterized by the supernatural and inevitably include a melodramatic, Manichaean conflict between forces of good and evil, extra-terrestrial films are rooted in a tradition of fiction where anxiety about otherness - be it racial, national, ideological, etc. - takes a literally ‘alien' form, conflating anxieties of otherness and religious archetypes. Featuring nuclear holocaust or bio-terror, self-induced disaster films give expression to cold-war anxieties that similarly characterize alien invasion, but do so in a more secular and less estranged context. Like extra-terrestrial, nuclear and bio-terror apocalyptic films, the natural disaster film focuses a great deal of attention on science and scientific discourses, differentiating contemporary secular myths of end times from the apocalypse in Abrahamic traditions. In this shift, science as the ‘new religion' provides for subtexts on fate and metaphysical meaning, where melodramatic oppositions of Manichaean good and evil continue to structure action and afford viewer identification (Brooks, Elsaesser). The natural disaster film is thus doubly "masculine' in that it stages the necessity of action and agency through Mulvey's "male view" while favoring a scientific discourse in an Apollonian/Dionysian dialectic (Paglia). Within this context, von Trier's Melancholia is exceptional in that its vision of end times achieves a cine-historical otherness by resisting Hollywood conventions of the male view. It constructs a critique of masculine cinematic pleasure by radically negating masculine agency and scientific reason, ultimately favoring the chthonic and self-consciously opening up a space, as I intend to show, of female viewing pleasure. To explore Melancholia's gender-inflected take on end times, is important to view von Trier's film not only in relation to the genre conventions of apocalyptic science fiction, but to those of family melodrama, which thematically dominate the entire first half of the film and much of the second. In addition to an aesthetic and narratological reading of the film, critical views on the role of gender throughout von Trier's filmography as well as relevant biographical details regarding depression and familial background will help to illuminate the dominant discourses at stake in Melancholia. As a subversive melodrama (Gledhill, Landy, Mulvey, Williams) that envisions the End, Melancholia's historic and cultural specificity is most clearly articulated in its critique of hegemonic social and visual practices.
Authors Loren, Scott
Language English
Subjects cultural studies
HSG Classification contribution to scientific community
HSG Profile Area SHSS - Kulturen, Institutionen, Maerkte (KIM)
Refereed No
Date 5 June 2013
Event Title Conference Keynote lecture: Melancholia: Imaging the End of the World
Event Location Philipps University, Marburg
Depositing User Dr. Scott Loren
Date Deposited 14 Aug 2013 11:01
Last Modified 20 Jul 2022 17:17


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Loren, Scott: Can Disaster Films be Feminine? : Lars von Trier's challenge to the male gaze. Conference Keynote lecture: Melancholia: Imaging the End of the World. Philipps University, Marburg, 5 June 2013.

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