Elina, Henry and Elsi. Childhood melancholia analyzed through cinematic landscapes

3/2010

Kaisa Hiltunen

In films childhood is pictured mostly as a nostalgic time of happy play and innocence. Klaus Härö’s As If I didn’t Exist (2002) and Auli Mantila’s My Friend Henry (2004) are exceptions, for these films show that childhood can be filled with worries and longing, and that innocence may be lost as a consequence of tragic events. This article analyzes the protagonists of Härö’s and Mantila’s films through the concept of melancholia by asking how the melancholia/melancholy of the films is constructed. Analysis focuses especially on the cinematic landscapes which are seen to have a metaphoric function in relation to the protagonists. Both films deal with the loss of a parent through death, divorce or illness and its effects on the protagonists. Therefore, melancholia is understood also as a theme of loss and analyzed through Freud’s theory of melancholia. In If I Did Not Exist the swamp landscape symbolizes various dimensions of the protagonist’s grief and plight after father’s death. In My Friend Henry the losses are less concrete and therefore more complicated. The children’s restlessness and apathy is mirrored in the slowly urbanizing impersonal landscape and their constant movement through it. Because loss is an ambiguous concept in Freud, his theory proves fruitful for the analysis of both films. It is concluded that although the films question the popular myth of a happy childhood they also aim for a positive ending.