First Advisor

Anne Marie Fallon

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in Film and University Honors




Melancholia (Motion picture) -- Criticism and interpretation, Lars von Trier (1956- ) -- Criticism and interpretation, Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1844-1900) -- Influence




Danish director Lars von Trier’s film, Melancholia (2011) has been widely read as sadistic in its approach to viewers and nihilistic in its message. In this essay I compare elements of the film’s form and message to functions of tragedy explained by Friedrich Nietzsche mainly in his Birth of Tragedy, and also from his other works. I demonstrate how Melancholia is a complexly woven allegory of forms which incites dynamic emotional and cognitive embodied responses from viewers, which is perceived by them as a negative experience. I go on to demonstrate how von Trier is employing these methods to elicit a galvanizing engaged response from viewers that more accurately reflects Nietzsche’s explanations of the function of ancient Greek tragedy for the polis. This function is to combat nihilism, and is not based in sadism. Thus I argue that Melancholia, through subversive semiotic play between sound, style, and narrative, legitimizes, and embodies through form, Nietzschean assertions on the function of ancient Dionysian tragedy and Aesthetics for a justification of existence--and that assertions of nihilism in Melancholia are misreadings.


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