Monday, August 31, 2015


What about the devil residing in innocence and virginity?


This is an adaptation of Euripides’ play. It starts with Jason and his new wife, but on a very political tone: Creon is yielding power to Jason and to make it more powerful and official in this Greece moving towards hereditary kingship he gives him his daughter Glauce. But Creon requires – and orders – the banishment of Medea and her two sons. We all know what comes after that. Medea begging Creon for one day’s suspension of his decision. Then the hypocritical change of mind with Jason that she seduces again but he reacts violently, after yielding to the desire, and yet accepts to convince Glauce to ask her father to keep the two children. He goes with them to give her a present: Medea’s bridal crown. Glauce will die poisoned and Creon too. Then Medea will have to kill the two sons and go away. Told like that this fable is as simple as a cold draft in a heating deprived house in winter when it is snowing outside.

Lars von Trier in 1988 only had the very low definition of the television of these days in Denmark to make his film but he already had his brilliant both lethal and murderous imagination rooted in the war and the German defeat which is also the allies’ victory. But Lars von Trier could never decide which was good and which was bad and he only saw the bad side of things.

In this film he modifies some elements to adapt them to this low definition television. The killing of the children is not spectacular with blood. He wants to have them there dead hanging in front of our shocked eyes in a long lasting full screen frame. So he has them hanged to the two branches of a totally dead tree. You can imagine the silhouette of these cadavers, these hanging bodies against the sky. That’s more spectacular than some blood on a nightshirt. But that’s too static, dead in a way. He wants life in his vision of death.

So Lars von Trier has to add something a lot more odious, repulsive. The younger boy runs away. The older boy gets him and brings him back and pulls on his leg to help him die faster on the rope that his mother had tied to the tree branch. On the following morning he asks his mother to help him. He ties the rope to the second tree branch, he puts the noose around his neck and she only has to let him go and pull slightly. The final embrace of the mother letting the child die hanged by that mutual desire shared in this final act is more than frightening. It is blood curdling and yet who is at fault, who is wrong somewhere? And during that time Jason is getting crazy.

Medea goes to a ship, waits for the tide. The sail is rolled down and she unties her hair and she goes away. No god, no divine intervention, no Deus ex Machina, just a plain ship going away from Greece probably to some distant country. Maybe Colchis after all.

But where is Euripides in all that? In the final caption on the screen: “A human life is a journey into the darkness where only a God can find the way for what no man dares believe God can bring about.” Finally a reference to God but this final caption means nothing and yet so much. That’s in fact the vision of Lars von Trier about humanity. He cannot bring man out of this darkness of the cataclysmic war and the ruined Europe and the viciously hypocritical people from both sides who have to save what they can in order to get some kind of revenge, not to speak of vengeance. Lars von Trier has a totally morbid and death-bound understanding of life, though understanding is not the proper word. It should be ignorance, and yet he knows too much, so what? Errant banishment from any over-lording understating understanding! That might be it. He sure wants us to somewhere believe we understand Medea in her suffering, but in fact he probably just wants us to wonder where can she find any haven, refuge, sanctuary with a condescending and understanding God. And if it were a Goddess? Hecate for example? But that’s beyond Lars von Trier. A Godless world is his final affiliation and conviction – and the sentence will be unsuspended.


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