The yearly crawl into the shadows of the winter solstice should be a sort of annual homecoming for me, for I am a winter child. I've always believed that those of us thrust into the world in the month ruled by Janus breathe into our very souls the season's privations, its thin air, its pale sunlight and its haunted silences. Perhaps this is what gives Capricorn the arid, passionless stolidity for which it is notorious. Perhaps this is also why Capricorn is said, in esoteric astrology, to be the most worldly and resilient of creatures, for the world at its coldest and most unforgiving was his first cradle, and he was nursed on long nights. Sacrifice is his godmother.
I have never strayed very far from the psychic precincts of my Janus birth; my mind is solstitial year-long, and I've been cursed with New Year's ambivalence all my life. My utopia has always been the immeasurable edge where endings and beginnings meet, where is hosted the mysterious, transcendent flowering of the new--a new made beautiful by the heavy scent of the decay it conquers. The scandal of life and death coexisting in a single moment is seductive, because it should not be--it cannot be. It is miraculous. J.R.R Tolkien called this a "eucatastrophe".
As I child, I loved to read of fallen empires and civilisations, little knowing that I would live to see my own civilisation self-administer the rites of winter. In those woeful stories, I saw a beauty that the victims of the disasters I was living vicariously could not have seen--that the Dark Ages would lighten, that the hieroglyphs would one day give up their secrets, that thousand-year tyrannies would be overthrown, that the darkness is always inside a chrysalis.
It is probably the disposition due to my love of endings and my certainty that they are seeds and not finalities that allows me to remain in profound inner communion with my own apparently vanishing culture. That communion I take so unquestionably for granted that it passes unnoticed throughout the year until it begins to knock slowly and gently at the heart as the shadows lengthen, turn, and stretch towards the Incarnation and the Passion that is its terrifyingly gorgeous after-carol.
In honour of fatally beautiful endings as we enter the season of endings, I present to you two beautifully sad filmic endings. I'm one of those odd, very odd, people who will sit through a movie, no matter how long, just to experience a breath-taking ending. There's something about such a consummation that makes me want to dwell in it, and it is precisely its refusal to be domesticated, its power to overrun me at every viewing, that perpetually renews my devotion to it.
The first is from the film version of The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Tomas and Tereza are driving away from a Czechoslovakian inn the morning after a party, finally happy with each other after years of marital discord. An emigrée friend of theirs living in California learns of their fate from a letter sent afterwards.
I saw this movie when it came out--a very strange choice for a nineteen-year-old boy (but I was a very strange nineteen-year-old boy). There weren't more than a dozen people in the theatre with me. When the house lights came up, we were all still in our seats, stunned, as if we'd been drained of blood. That was a superb feeling.
The second clip is from Terrence Malick's The New World, basically a re-telling of the Pocahontas story (for grown-ups). Malick turns her death into a magnificently elegiac summons to re-birth, one driven by Malick's brilliant use of Wagner's dizzying "Vorspiel" from Das Rheingold, creating a cathedral of sound. The truly captivating part, though, is the final silence--which really isn't one.