Nature in Medea

Medea’s interactions and relationship with the natural world that surrounds her is an important element of Lars Von Trier’s Medea.

The ubiquity and looming presence of nature throughout the movie serves as a striking counterpoint to the intrigues and schemes that surround the titular character after the betrayal of her husband. Medea is constantly oppressed by Jason and his actions, and by the results of those actions; however, the natural world around her is free, beyond the capabilities of any human being to control, manipulate, or take advantage of. In many scenes, Medea is the sole human visible on screen amid a vivid backdrop of nature, perhaps indicating her desire for the liberty of the natural world, a desire that is suppressed by the social circumstances of her current predicament.

”]”In the screenshot above, Medea is symbolically linked to nature, to the skies and clouds in the backdrop of the frame; however, the worried and hurt look on her face intrudes upon her union with nature’s freedom and serves as a reminder of her betrayal by Jason, and the actions she must take to address that betrayal. In a sense, Medea functions as a symbol of nature itself; an entity that must be at its own liberty, and cannot be successfully tamed, oppressed, or unfairly manipulated, and that, should the need arise, can muster an inexorable and unstoppable force to punish those who have wronged it. Medea is nature in a woman’s form; a deadly opponent when wrongfully manipulated, like a river bursting through a manmade dam. Once Jason has set in motion the wheels of her revenge by wronging her and taking advantage of her, effectively imprisoning her in a cell of social injustice, it is beyond anybody’s power to remedy the situation, and the force of her vengeance as she strives to punish him and free herself from his influence is as irresistible as the merciless wind that buffets the characters throughout the film. She is one with nature in spirit, but not in reality; and the fruition of her vengeance is a slow progression towards the harmony of inward and outward identity.

Thus, when Medea completes her vengeance by hanging both of her and Jason’s children, and Jason gazes upon the fruits of his betrayal and manipulation, the natural world couches and contains the terrible sight:

”]”]”

The children, hanging from a tree in a field of golden grass, as the birds chirp, are casualties of Jason’s vain combat with nature incarnate; and now, nature – with Medea as its agent – has swallowed those children up, annihilating them and assimilating them into its being. Similar to a tornado indiscriminately harming both the good and evil, the deserving and the undeserving, Medea’s vengeance against Jason and rebellion against his social oppression is effectively indiscriminate, entailing the slaughter of innocent children to achieve its objective. Those children now hang from a tree, dead – as if the tree had captured them, tied the rope and asphyxiated them to death itself. However, as with the tornado above, the atrocity is not necessarily “evil”; it is, rather, the inevitable and natural reaction to a betrayal as egregious as Jason’s, which merits an equally egregious response. In betraying and bullying Medea, Jason has imprisoned and harassed a force beyond his power to contend against; and when its fury is fully realized, he is entirely helpless as it breaks free and destroys him, like a cornered and caged beast unleashing its indiscriminate wrath on its oppressors.

As Medea departs and Jason suffers from the debilitating effects of Medea’s poison, her natural fury has run its course; and Jason, already dead in spirit, though still dying in body, succumbs to defeat in a windy field of golden grass, swinging his sword vainly against a foe that surrounds him on all sides:

                                                 [Time Stamp: 1:05:58-1:15:57]

It is perhaps at this point that Jason realizes the true identity of his opponent, though that identity had been hidden in the guise of Medea; and acknowledging the inconsequentiality of his resistance to nature itself, he throws his sword in frustration, before collapsing into the grass, utterly annihilated by its power, just as his children were. Medea, the human form of the natural world, stoic, calm, and reflective as she departs for a new life, removes her hat for the first time in the film, allowing her long hair to flow free. With this symbolic act, she has now reconciled her inward identity with her outward identity; though she was previously oppressed by social circumstance, she now possesses the ability to harmonize the spirit with the body, and her thoughts with reality – she is free. In a sense, Jason, Medea, and their two sons have all become one with nature – one voluntarily, and three involuntarily.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Nature in Medea

  1. mcostin23

    The thing I enjoyed most about this film was the way Lars Von Trier shot it. This plays a huge role in the effect the themes and characters affect the audience’s experience. Von Trier is known specifically for his overhead camera angles, concentrating on characters in the center of the screen, or coming in and out of it. I like it how you described her “desire for the liberty of the natural world” as well as the way you depicted her in the picture. It really does look as if she is “Lady Liberty” at first glance (or at least that was my experience).

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