More From the Sunset: Lars von Trier and "Bipolar Cinema"

Warrick, Alexandra Grace

The acts of profane illogic, the breaks from reality, the rapid-cycling mood swings, the high heights and then the dead-eyed anhedonia – these qualities apply to Lars Von Trier’s woeful leading ladies and to the style and rhythm of the films themselves, making his oeuvre a solid starting point for the development of a conception of “bipolar cinema,” a concept coined by David Coleman in his book “The Bipolar Express: Manic Depression and the Movies.” Coleman articulates “bipolar cinema” as a three-pronged umbrella concept – there are films that center on bipolar disorder, films created by those with bipolar disorder and films that evoke the qualities of manic-depressive episodes in their narrative strategies. Von Trier squarely belongs in the third category, offering a nuanced and clear-eyed visual representation of the experience of the condition’s manic upswings and depressive lows. Due to this expressionistic approach, Von Trier not only offers fully realized heroines with complex psychological profiles but also allows the audience to embark on their emotional journey on an intimate level through his moving storytelling. Von Trier expresses his themes not only explicitly in his screenplays but also through the use of such tools as visual metaphor, recurring motifs, thoughtful camerawork and overall evocative mise-en-scene. His films, with these hyper-connections and frequent tonal shifts, themselves operate like the bipolar mind.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Pat Anderson Prize in Film Reviewing
Published Here
April 15, 2016