Melancholia (2011)

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

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19 responses to “Melancholia (2011)

  1. Aces Anna.

    I am not a fan of Von Triers AntiChrist it is on my vow never to watch list!! But this sounds like something I could get my teeth into.

    Thanks for the review.

    How was your bro after both this and tree of life…i bet he was emotionally drained?

    • Yeah definitely, if one isn’t a fan of / hasen’t seen much of Von Trier, Antichrist isn’t the best place to start. Besides, it’s seriously not even that bad as people let it out to be.

      Well, he found the Tree of Life to be super boring, and so did the audience. Apparently there were a lot of “Oh fuck it keeps going doesn’t it” shouts during the multiple endings.

      • HAHA That is brilliant. I really find it amusing how Tree of life has affected people in such wildly different ways! From life changing experience to a film that would be worse than sticking pins in their own eyes!! HAHA

  2. Interesting. I have only seen Breaking the Waves and I forced myself to like it because of all the good things I have heard about it from critics. I did not want to be left out in the cold.

    So this is not on my immediate must see list, but I may get around to it …

  3. Superb, Anna! Looking forward to this so much. Seeing it early next month. I too, am trying to keep away from promotional material and reviews, but this review was too compelling. Great work!

  4. Näin tämän itsekin juuri vähän aikaa sitten ja hyvän arvostelun kirjoitit.

    Se, että onko nähnyt von Trierin filmejä aiemmin vaikuttaa varmasti kokemukseen. Olin myös tietämätön elokuvan tyylistä ja juonesta ennen kun näin sen ja oli aikalailla shokki, kuinka taiteellinen näkökulma se lopulta oli. Ja kyllä täytyy tosi paljon pitää Melancholiasta (ja sen tyylistä) jos sen heti haluaa uudelleen nähdä. Oli se kuitenkin paikoitellen melko hidastempoinen vaikka upeasti toteutettuja asioita sisälsikin. Tietenkin tämä on kuitenkin merkki todella sivistyneestä kulttuuri- ja elokuvaihmisestä ;).

    Näitkö muuten tämän Suomessa ? :) Mietin kun Melancholiaa ei kovin monessa maassa ole vielä näytetty, mutta toisaalta en huomannut, että The Tree of Lifesta olisi vielä lähiteattereissa (finnkinossa) näytöksiä hetkeen. Sekin kuulostaa ehdottomasti odottamisen arvoiselta.

    • No jaa, usein “taide-elokuvien” katselijat ovat täysin itsekeskeisiä narsisti-elitistejä. Itse en kokenut elokuvaa hidastempoiseksi sen näyttelijäkaartin takia, jokainen hetki säilytti mielenkiintoni seuratessani heidän työtään.

      Näin! Tree of Lifen veljeni näki Ruotsissa. Jossa tietysti kaikki elokuvat saapuvat teattereihin kuukausia aikaisemmin ….

  5. Pingback: Melancholia « Ramblings of an Artist·

  6. I pretty much despised Antichrist so I’m not the biggest fan of Von Trier. I might give this a shot on DVD though given your highly positive review. I take it you liked Antichrist? :)

    • Well probably all the elements in Antichrist that you probably hated are non existent in this movie, so yes you should give it a go! Antichrist a) got a really bad rep as sensationalism (which it IMO wasn’t) and b) was for many a people the first Von Trier film they saw, and that gives them a really different view on the guy, which is unfair. Some directors have very different types of films, if I only ever saw Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch and hated it, and then would automatically, disregarding the premise, not watch his other films, I’d be missing out on a lot of stuff.

      It’s not that I “liked” Antichrist more than I thought it was a good film. There’s nothing really to like about it.

  7. As a Von Trier fan I can admit he can be hit or miss at the best of times. Having said that, your review has me even more eager to see this film! I find whether he succeeds or not Von Trier’s films are always interesting to watch.

  8. Pingback: Close-Up : Kirsten Dunst | Split Reel·

  9. I am quite familiar with von Trier’s work but had no idea what this one was about. This is the very best movie on the ‘apocalyptic’ theme I ever saw for it depicts it as coming from the inner realms of the soul as well, not just some ridiculously spectacular crumbling physical environments like 2012, for example. The movie arises many questions with most interesting wall to wall symbolism which is a school not alien to the country L.von Trier comes from to begin with. Pointless to compare this one to Antichrist. I could not agree more with your positive critism concerning all actors and I will admit that when I saw Sutherland arriving, I had a negative prejudice about he being in the movie which soon vanished to be replace by a most pleasant surprise all the while. The movie left me (still does) with many questions in my mind, specifically at the very end, considering who is left dealing with the reality of the end and who simply couldn’t due to lack of guts, courage and responsibility towards his own child, which to me depicts more than clearly, the unprecedented cowardness of the modern male. Inwardly, I call this movie ‘a horrible masterpiece’. Lars von Trier never ceases to astonish me even if I am in no stretch of the mind one to idolise any human being whoever they may be or have been.

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