Medicine for Melancholy, Barry Jenkins absorbing film debut, ends with a 365% panning shot of a cramped San Francisco walk-up which ends looking out the window and down onto the street, where a woman is getting onto her bicycle and heading back to the life she interrupted for a dreamy, angsty day of sex and soul -searching with the man left sleeping in the apartment. The shot seems almost P.O.V., if the point of view is taken to be, in this case, the dream-state of the sleeping man himself. At the beginning of the film, he searches the city for the woman he had woken up next to, and who had given him a false name. By the end he has found her and they have repeatedly consummated a two-night stand, gotten drunk and high and gone dancing and to the museum, cooked and slept together, but he is no closer to the sought for connection with her than he was when he woke up. Searching for even in his dreams, that last shot seems to suggests, she is always about to disappear around the next corner.

Both the man and woman are melancholics, but their respective predicaments differ. Micah (Wyatt Cenac) is nursing a breakup, and, in his despair, tentatively blames his anomie on his immersion in a white-dominated indie scene. Jo (Tracey Heggins) doesn’t want to talk about race or why her white boyfriend (away in London) won’t hang any art on the walls of his house, even though he is a curator. In her listlessness, she doesn’t so much rebut Micah’s analysis of their blipster plight as hint, through her unresponsiveness, her fear that any sexual connection, intra-racial or inter-racial, will prove insufficient to long-term happiness. In this she reminds me of the protagonist of another existentialist independent black film, Stan in Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep. There are of course many differences: Stan is blue collar, older, married with children, and confronting a dead-end ghettoized existence. Jo is younger, educated, living an integrated life of privilege. And yet both characters exude the same terminal listlessness that the tenderness and seduction of their respective partners can only temporarily coax them out of.

Micah’s problem seems comparatively easy: get a new girlfriend, find some black friends who like rock (ever heard of the internet?) Jo’s seem harder because she cannot quite formulate them. Or rather, she can only formulate them through a t-shirt homage to the filmmaker Barbara Loden, whose one movie, Wanda, depicted another blank, depressed female figure wandering in and out of sexual and other exploits.

This movie is also about its droning, pulsing, and hypnotic indie rock soundtrack. But music — the love of which Jo shares with Micah — becomes for her what Derrida, in Plato’s Pharmacy, called a pharmakon. A curing poison, or poisonous cure, the pharmakon supplements Jo’s melancholy with a temporary palliative. But, like any medicine (according to Derrida’s reading of Plato), it inevitably fails, in that distorts the natural course of illness and, therein, its possible end.

Micah, recognizing this supplementarity of medicine (indie rock) and melancholy, reads it in ideological fashion: the poison in the cure of indie rock is the whiteness of the scene they are always “hanging off of.” If they could be black, together, they could also be whole. Jo isn’t so sure. She doesn’t spell it out, but in her ineloquent silences, not to mention her dream-state departure, she strongly suggests that race-feeling isn’t the panacea Micah, self-doubtingly, hopes it can be.

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