This week, I’ve taken a look at the melancholic elements in Lorene Scafaria’s indie drama, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (2012). For anyone who has already seen this film, you may be wondering how it even qualifies as something melancholic with its quirky and romantic-comedy themes. While it’s true that such themes run rampant throughout the film, I do believe that they aid in a different kind of sadness — one in which the audience hopelessly sympathizes with the main characters. Coinciding these themes, Scafaria uses graphic or violent scenes in order to bring the audience back to the reality of the dire situation. Scafaria alternates and often even combines such themes and scenes, challenging the audience to view this film with mixed feelings — wherein lies the melancholic elements of the film.
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World opens with a radio broadcast announcing that efforts to stop the seventy-mile-wide asteroid hurling towards Earth have failed, and that there will only be three weeks until impact and ultimately the end of the world. Dodge (Steve Carell) and his wife Linda (Nancy Carell) are silently driving at night as they listen to the broadcast. The broadcaster goes on to say that they will continue up-to-date coverage of their “countdown to the ‘End of Days’” alongside playing “classic rock favorites.” Dodge comments how he thinks they’ve missed the exit, which subsequently causes Linda to flee from the car without a single word.
This bizarre opening scene is extremely significant because it sets the overall tone of the rest of the film. The contrast of the broadcaster casually speaking of the approaching end of the human race versus Dodge’s subdued shock that causes his wife to run away is one of many strange moments that tampers with the emotions of the audience.
Anne Sexton was yet another troubled poet in the world of creative writing in which much of her pain fueled her work. She suffered from postpartum depression after the births of her two daughters when she was only in her mid-twenties. After Sexton had two separate mental breakdowns and had attempted suicide on her birthday, she was admitted into a psychiatric hospital. Having known about her interest in poetry while she was in high school, her doctor urged her to start writing again. Despite a successful writing career that blossomed from her pain, Sexton unfortunately took her own life in 1974.
As I continue this blog series, specifically with my interpretations of melancholic poetry, I am beginning to realize how important it is that these pieces exist. Depression is an immensely difficult illness to put into words, as there is no visual wound. Poets like Plath and Sexton, who suffered for their poetry, have beautifully and dismally described what it feels like to be in a state of clinical depression. Though they tragically took their lives to be freed of their own struggles with depression, what they’ve left behind is a legacy for others who suffer the same illness to feel like they are not alone.
“The Fury of Rainstorms”
“The rain drums down like red ants, each bouncing off my window.”
Named after the Waxahatchee Creek in Alabama, indie band Waxahatchee was founded in 2010 by lead singer and guitarist Katie Crutchfield. Her 2012 breakout album, American Weekend, was recorded in only a week at her family home in Birmingham, Alabama.
Crutchfield is adept at tugging on the heartstrings of her listeners by utilizing casual, yet exquisite language and imagery in her lyrics, allowing listeners to easily connect to what she sings. Much of this raw tone is used throughout American Weekend, but I think with the proper recording studio, it is honed in her second album, Cerulean Salt (2013). This album features a song that I think best embodies the raw, casual, and exquisite (and of course melancholic) language and imagery of Waxahatchee, and that song is “Brother Bryan.”
“I said to you on the night that we met, ‘I am not well’”
We are first introduced to two people in this song — a vulnerable narrator and a person in which the narrator is speaking to. The fact that the narrator openly admits that they are “not well” to a person they have just met says a lot about what the narrator could be dealing with. The first thing that comes to mind for me was depression. People afflicted with this illness handle it in different ways when it comes to the public — some may keep it a secret to try and fit in with what is “normal,” and others may feel so lost and hopeless that it’s their last attempt to reach out to someone for help. I think the narrator in this song embodies the latter.
Only by peeling back the superficial layer of Midnight Special (2016) can you truly get a sense of its frantic desperation, wherein lies the disheartening tone found throughout. Midnight Special is more than just a sci-fi/adventure indie film about a young boy with special powers hunted by others for their own selfish desires. Rather, it’s an effective drama focused on a mother and father desperate to keep their son safe.
Alton Meyer(Jaeden Lieberher) is an 8-year-old boy with strange, seemingly supernatural abilities. Through a beam of light that projects from his eyes, Alton has the power to allow others to see things. This very ability is what led to the creation of “The Ranch,” a religious, cult-like organization run by Alton’s adoptive father Calvin (Sam Shepherd).
Calvin and his followers believe Alton is a messenger of God who, after warning them of the fast-approaching end of the world, will ultimately save them. Calvin leads sermons that are influenced by a number code that Alton recites to him. This catches the immediate attention of the U.S. Government, as many of the codes used in Calvin’s sermons are in fact top-secret government information. As the film unfolds, the U.S. Government’s interest in Alton greatly increases when they discover his power, which also includes his ability to make unexplained things happen in their natural world.
Midnight Special opens up in a drab hotel room where Alton, his biological father, Roy (Michael Shannon), and Roy’s longtime friend and state trooper, Lucas (Joel Edgerton), are staying. In the background we see a TV that’s broadcasting a kidnapping report with Alton’s picture at the forefront, along with a photo of his suspected kidnapper: Roy. The camera focuses on the hotel room door, where Lucas pulls back a piece of black duct tape from the peep hole, and begins cutting away the cardboard they’ve taped over the windows. It’s this removal of natural light that we quickly find to be a recurring act throughout the film, and as we keep watching, we find out why, since Alton cannot control his abilities in natural light.
Sylvia Plath lived her adult days in somber madness, greatly attributing to the now-famous work she produced in her lifetime. The clinical depression that overtook her life was the driving force behind her writing, and ultimately her unfortunate demise. Sylvia Plath was only thirty years old when she took her own life.
Much of Plath’s work details her mental health and life troubles, especially the problems she experienced in her romantic life. I chose to interpret her poem “Mad Girl’s Love Song,” as I feel it is an accurate representation of Plath’s state of mind during her troubles with love. Interestingly enough, this poem was written years before she split with her husband Ted Hughes, whom she discovered was having an affair with another woman.
“Mad Girl’s Love Song”
“I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead I lift my lids and all is born again. (I think I made you up inside my head.)”
Daughter emerged onto the music scene in 2013 with their breakout album If You Leave, rendering first-time listeners and fans across the world in a state of pure despair but wanting more. Elena Tonra, the main vocalist of Daughter, wields a voice that is both soothing and haunting. Combined with the atmospheric waves of guitar strings and drums, and Tonra’s impressive ability to bring images to life through her lyrics, If You Leave in itself is a depressive force to be reckoned with.
With this in mind, it was very difficult to choose one song I considered to be especially disheartening. But finally, I settled on the song “Lifeforms,” because of the somber imagery and message Tonra brings to her audience’s attention.
“From the beginning Small lifeforms They can kill without warning So you don’t explode”
Immediately we are introduced to the idea of “small lifeforms” followed by a powerful recognition from the narrator that these small lifeforms can kill. In succession with the last line, however, I feel that the small lifeforms can actually both kill and be killed. This gave me the strong assumption that the song is referring to fetuses as the small lifeforms. An unborn child can really alter a woman’s life if its conception is unplanned. A woman could perhaps experience complications during birth that may endanger her life. An unborn child’s life can also be terminated through abortion at an early stage, so that the woman doesn’t “explode,” or show signs of pregnancy.
Grave of the Fireflies (1988), though animated in its appearance on screen, is far from first assumptions of it being made for children. If anything, children should avoid this film at all costs. Grave of the Fireflies, directed by Isao Takahata, is a masterful piece in the way that it is completely unabashed in detailing the horrors of World War II in Japan.
Grave of the Fireflies follows the tale of Seita and Setsuko, siblings who are struggling for survival after their parents and home were lost in the destructive path of World War II. The use of animation lends a childlike charm in parts of the film in stark contrast to the chaos that ensues surrounding these characters. The purpose of this contrast is to get the audience to feel for Seita and Setsuko, maybe even root for their survival. Unfortunately, the harsh reality of the siblings’ situation is first noticed by the audience rather than by the siblings themselves.