Life is only on Earth. And not for long.
I purposefully avoided all commentary, all reviews, all takes on Melancholia before I saw it. I’ve found that doing more and more movie reviews has become draining on the viewing experience. Doing research, reading other reviewers comments and often quite strong opinions, and not ever skipping the trailer and the promotional material has often given me either very high or very low expectations of certain films. As I am a big Von Trier fan, I wanted to keep this one fresh, hence the radio silence.
Melancholia is a film about the end of the world. And boy, it’s definitely a film about depression; dark, deep, overtly consuming depression. As the planet Melancholia (a water planet that’s been hiding behind the sun) shoots towards the earth at 94 000 km/h speed, the scientist are torn on the calculations: will it hit or won’t it? We get to see a wedding, a beautiful, expensive and ruined wedding, a bride who’s confused to the point of agony, a sister who does everything for her sibling, a desperate man of science wanting to believe and a vapid, yet overtly good looking fiancé trying to please.
The days leading up to the supposed passing of the planet Melancholia are told in part from Justine’s (Kirsten Dunst) and in part from Claire’s (Charlotte Gainsbourg) point of view. Two sisters at the centre of the story fight with their relationship and deep connection as the classic night and day couple.
Slow in pace (for some, I actually relished on the minute details of it) Melancholia sits on a deep volcano of symbolism. How far that symbolism goes, and how much of the film actually is reality in the characters minds is debatable but there is no denying how well Von Trier depicts this monsterous weight that is depression. At a time it was unclear whether Lars Von Trier would continue with his film career due to a succumb to a deep depression, but from the deep darkness of Antichrist has risen a lighter and more profound Trier, whose motives are different.
Many lingering questions remain as the credits roll (the sign of a great film in my opinion are the questions left behind). I’m left wondering what I would do as the possible end of the world would be near, would I remain hopeful? Justine’s and Claire’s biggest confrontation both in their character, and in this moment is that they will never believe in the same hope. For Claire salvation lies with her family on earth, for Justine, well, there is no life on earth worth saving. The questions of humanity and the state of the world today leaves a question of deservedness. Who deserves to live? Is there such a thing?
Devastating moments mixed in with stunning ones. Trivial, everyday monents mixed in with once-in-a-lifetime spectacularity. Trier’s M.O. works well as usual. His contrasting of, dare I say it, quality and profoundness works well, highlighting the brilliance with the mundane.
As has been said, and already rewarded, Kirsten Dunst does a brilliant job in this. Her duality, variation and degredation from a happy bride to a girl crippled with depression to a determination never before seen, is indeed remarkable. An Oscar nod should be on the way. Some of the credit though has to go to the lovely Charlotte Gainsbourg for bringing in such a complex chemistry, working the quiet girl in favour of the loud one.
Kiefer Sutherland‘s character, John, took home the ‘most welcome addition’ prize for me. I never thought of Sutherland as an actor’s actor, but here he creates a highly different character to his usual and manages to bring in a very tragic and recentful storyline with ease. As acting goes, Melancholia has given me the best experience of 2011 so far. (I’m holding out for A Dangerous Method and J. Edgar though)
My brother saw this the same day as Malick’s The Tree of Life. Fitting, as Von Trier has taken on a similar visual artist brand in his latest direction. The unbelivably beautiful first minutes set the stage for a dramatic visual masterpiece comparable to Malick’s ‘every frame is a piece of art’ mentality. But unlike Malick, I still belive Von Trier’s strength is in directing of a meaningful story, not in the visualisation of it.
Melancholia isn’t overtly ‘done’. It’s a bit unfinished, the dialogue is left unperfect, so are the visuals. It’s not ment to be a glistened, shiny package ready for use once and then throw away. Rarely I desperately want to watch a film again straight away, but this made me want to check if there was another screening that night. Yet again, another sign of a great film. I haven’t rewatched it though, but have let the questions and imagery stew in my mind for a while. What one might call Trier’s nicest film, it’s still a layered and complex piece with many possible ways of interpretation.
But as most Von Trier films, it’s not for everyone. These two twenty-something girls sitting next to me in the theatre, couldn’t have left the screen sooner, yelping out ‘OH MY GOD, that’s the most boring movie I’ve ever seen’. I guess someone got fooled by the Kirsten Dunst + Aleksander Skarsgård dynamic and the unfamiliar ‘some Danish guy’ Von Trier. I don’t think people saw Antichrist by mistake.
You Will Like Melancholia If …
- you’ve enjoyed Von Trier’s other work to an extent, but resented the ‘gore’.
- you don’t want to miss this year’s acting talent galore.
- you haven’t read too many reviews of it.
9 / 10