It’s been haunting me for days, this Melancholia. I can’t seem to get it out of my head—not that I want to.

In the opening sequence, the film’s orchestral score sweeps me up then drags me under. Kirsten Dunst’s pained expression—eyes half-mast as if dead, hair dripping—ropes me in with the birds and dark matter falling from the sky. A Hitchcockian moment, the scene morphs into a series of super-slow-mo canvases—rich, surreal, botanical, like oil paintings—mingling with celestial panoramas. I feel gravity's pull, the essence of depression tugging at me like the grimy swathes shown entangling the bride’s wrists and ankles, and the weighty steps of a desperate mother hugging her boy across her chest. Just like I sometimes carry Calvin, I think, especially when he is having a seizure, trying to find some safe haven.

I sensed that the world might end—planet Melancholia perhaps slamming into the earth—and I understood the bride’s despair that dampened and soiled her billowy white chiffon. But what I hadn’t understood was exactly why I couldn’t stop thinking about the film—its images, its characters, its music, its ending—kept rolling them over in my mind like a handful of stones.

A few mornings later, over a cinnamon roll and a perfectly round coconut cream moon, Michael and I revisited the film. We sat across from each other in a booth near the window of the little storefront donut shop. I told him that Melancholia had stayed with me ever since we’d seen it several nights before. I explained how I related to the character, Claire, as she carried her son alone across a field, each step sinking knee-high into soggy turf, trying in vain to escape obliteration. I wondered how I’d feel if I knew that doom was approaching with the ferocity of a hurtling mass, wondered what I’d do.

“But wouldn’t we know years in advance if a planet was headed toward the earth?” I asked.
“Yes, Michael replied, then reminded me, “but Melancholia had been hiding behind the sun.”

He explained that Melancholia was allegorical, and as he did I realized I’d foolishly missed it—its painfully obvious metaphor for despair, grief and loss that seem to come out of nowhere. “Just like Calvin,” I remarked, tears welling up in my eyes as I licked coconut glaze from my lips. I reached across the table to hold Michael’s hand whose clear blue eyes appeared moist and edged pink. “Yep, just like Calvin,” he added, and I cried for our boy—and for us—hit so hard with illness, suffering, debilitating conditions, epilepsy and its heinous treatments.

We went on to talk about how everyone has their own Melancholia that suddenly appears, bringing us to our knees. For some—like us—it comes in the form of an ill child. For others, it’s the loss of a job, the passing of a parent, sibling, spouse or partner, a terminal disease, a chronic condition, an abusive relationship, a divorce, the death of a child. We cannot escape, none of us.

And so I ate my last piece of donut in relative silence, tasting nothing but a thin, greasy film on the roof of my mouth, thinking about Calvin's clear blue eyes, like two celestial orbs reflecting all of my grief, loss and fear, but also my salvation. We're two planets colliding, I lovingly thought, Calvin: my own little Melancholia, my moon, my star.

To view the opening scene of Melancholia, click here.

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from Melancholia, directed by Lars von Trier


  1. Albrecht Durer does a nice etching titled melancholia.

    Do dogs get melancholia?

  2. Beautiful post -- you capture so easily and seemingly without effort the early days of seizures. My daughter has had them, uncontrolled, for seventeen years, and while it's become "easier," in some ways, it hasn't in many others, specifically the existential way --

    I haven't seen the movie but intend to one of these days.