12/18/2011 07:54 pm ET | Updated Feb 17, 2012

Newt, The Planet

It's the least gruesome, but most stunning of the movies in the Lars von Trier oeuvre -- stunning in the original sense of the word, Melancholia, I mean, a merciless cosmic bookend to Terence Malick's salvational Tree of Life. Both films show an unprecedented metaphysical audacity, first of all, but they also share elements of style, pacing, scoring -- the very feel of them is one. Something in the zeitgeist, no doubt.

Enter Newt Gingrich -- Herald of a Dreadful Hour.

The night after I saw Melancholia I had an awful dream. The dream, like the movie, featured a hitherto unknown planet, called Melancholia, whose uncertain orbit round the sun might or might not result in apocalyptic collision with the earth. Except, in my dream, the planet was Newt. It looked like the planet in the movie -- but it was Newt. You know how that happens in dreams.

The movie goes back and forth between that gigantic alien's journey across our familiar skies and Kirsten Dunst's psychological state -- maximum severity depression, observed in enervating clinical detail (and maybe the best depiction of mental illness ever filmed, by the way). The planet's the objective correlative, as they say -- the best tradition of modernist poetics realized on the screen. The metaphor's pervasive, but not too obvious, the very best kind.

But why Newt?

Well, the shape first of all. The swollen rotundity. Every symbol needs its associative link, and resemblance is a classic. But powerful symbols go further; they are infused with meaning and feeling -- and this was a very powerful symbol, in the movie and the dream. I used to think I knew what "looming" meant, but now I really do. "Impending," also. The way that planet began to fill the sky as it drifted closer to earth -- the sense of an infinite capacity for expansion, for inflation. As if the sky had met its match. As if the sky could be smothered.

There's a moment in the movie where the planet, having been quite close, moves away. You can tell because it gets smaller. Relief abounds. But then, it comes back. You can tell because it gets bigger. Only this time you know the iffy orbiting is over. This time it's coming straight at us.

Then I woke up.

It was only a dream, an anxiety dream.

It can't really happen, right?