February 5th, 2012
On the eve of an anticipated Blizzard –that’s Environment Canada’s word for it—and, like everyone else, I will be settling indoors all weekend to watch the winds rage and the snow swirl. Weather warnings have been particularly apocalyptic all week. Nature will have its way with us again, and so we might as well surrender to the spectacle.
There is something weirdly coincidental about having just watched Lars von Trier’s Melancholia at MUN Cinema this week, a film about the end of our planet as we know it. Over more than two hours the spectator anticipates a catastrophic collision. Now, that’s a dramatic storyline if ever there were one. A couple of people walked out of the packed audience well before Planet A hit Planet B. I wondered why. Perhaps they just couldn’t take the intensity of the suspense, and a well forecast downer of an ending. The audience is put into a very uneasy zone, compelled to identify itself with the characters who are, by turns, in denial about the event or relieved that the mess and suffering of life itself will finally just be over.
A snowstorm isn’t the fatal collision of Melancholia, but it does get everyone thinking about what if – what if the power fails, buildings collapse, accidents happen, and the liquor runs out. Judging from the line-ups at the grocery and liquor store right now, the end of the world really is nigh.
The weekend will probably be a good time to dedicate some time to becoming familiar with Leonard Cohen’s latest album, Old Ideas. I really haven’t had time to absorb all the intensity of Cohen’s brilliance yet, but I sure love the title. Leave it to the poet to tag his ideas “old,’ an audacious counter-trend to our cult of newness. Cohen’s songs take up all the big old (and Old Testament) themes – mortality, especially—and the inevitable end of things. as some have noted, isn’t that the angel of death on the cover? I’d put money on it that the 77 year-old crooner would love von Trier’s Melancholia for all of its honest, unsentimental exploration about the fact of mortality.
A blizzard, a movie, an album of songs: sometimes everything seems to connect.
This blog was, indeed, interrupted by weather and the need to pack up and attempt a drive home. It’s now several days later and I am gazing at the snow-covered campus on a cold, sunny Sunday afternoon. Yes, the winds howled and life slowed to a crawl, but nothing dramatic really happened, after all. A lot of hype with so little to show for it, as with so much in our almost hysterical event-obsessed world. Weather is now treated as an event, like planets colliding. What used to be just another bad day of winter is now framed as a set piece of possible annihilation. Perhaps we need to keep juicing ourselves up with these fearful scenarios to shake ourselves out of midwinter complacency. The entertainment industry has surely taken over even this aspect of daily life.
It’s hours before the Superbowl, arguably the biggest and most distracting spectacle of the season—with apologies to the Oscar ceremony—another example of our need to exaggerate and then revel in the exaggeration. It won’t be the end of the world when one team will dominate another, but for a few moments, at least, I am sure the television commentators will make it sounds as if that were the case. The ultimate victors/conquerors/gladiators will have transcended (ordinary, humdrum) life itself.
You have to admire humanity for going to such extreme measures to distract ourselves from the big questions. Hard to imagine Leonard Cohen performing at the half time show, isn’t it?