Genre: Sci-Fi, Drama
Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kiefer Sutherland
Director: Lars von Trier
Lars Von Trier has long struck me as one of the few remaining directors who manages to push the boundaries of modern cinema, willing to try new things and experiment, and in the process has created some of the most fascinating modern pieces that I can recall. The shocking thing is just how long it took me to watch this, and just how long I spent trying to justify what I'd seen. There's no two ways about it, Melancholia in indeed a horrifically depressing film; starring a wedding gone sour at the hands of the severely depressed and lacking in a certain degree of sanity, Justine (Dunst). Daughter to a woman who seems to enjoy insulting her and an uncaring womaniser, after failing to get any real help in dealing with her uncertainties at the recent ceremony, her apathy soon becomes apparent as she struggles to maintain her façade. Soon she is taken in with her anxiety-suffering elder sister (Gainsbourg) – isn't this family a barrel of laughs – and her wealthy husband (Kiefer Sutherland), cared for whilst worries of the planet melancholia's trajectory plague their minds.
Mood swings I get; hiding behind layers of lies and putting on a brave face for the world to hide your true feelings until you reach a point you can no longer face it, that I understand. In fact, this element was played remarkably well, subtly demonstrating her struggling with the illness in a naturalistic manner. For all the mainstream work Dunst may have done in her career there can be little doubt that she is more capable an actress than I previously gave her credit for. What doesn't make sense, however, is her inherent indecisiveness. A number of critical moments where she makes snap decisions to alter her life in very drastic ways in a very short space of time (though I won't go spoiling any details, there are after all, so little that seems to really happen in this film). We spend an hour and a half getting to know her, and the depression at this point is well hidden, the cracks just forming and pointed out by the other characters, and it's not until we get to the other point of the film that we see just how debilitating it is for her.
Focussing on “Melancholia” itself, the planet that apparently nobody decided to mention, despite looking identical to ours and following an impossible trajectory. If someone out there knows of a planet like that that every scientist has been overlooking all this time, please let us know. It is this that forms the pivotal backdrop for the closing forty minutes or so, spending a greater amount of time dealing with the the stars-obsessed husband and his wife; Justine's sister, much the films detriment, given that so few of the other characters seemed to have any real depth of personality to them. As it gets closer and closer, and Dunst gets crazier and crazier, I start to wonder if he's trying to make some sort of astrology reference, and I only realised the coincidence of such progression when she suddenly becomes all the more lucid and happy, claiming to 'know things' as the planet hurtles towards us, seeming to smile genuinely for the first time in the knowledge that all life is going to be extinguished. As the end of the world approaches, it is this that she finds solace in whilst the rest of the world seems to struggle not to lose their collective shit. Perhaps it's the fact that she no longer cares for the existence of life, so far has her depression sunk, but all that's really known is that Trier believes that those with depression react more calmly in stressful situations, and to an extent I suspect he's right.
Likewise, the use of music has rarely felt more in harmony with the once again stellar cinematography from 'Antichrist;' repeating the opening to Wagner's 'Tristun and Isolde' showing a willing to not use the same pieces as the others but to more carefully consider which would be the most appropriate. I guess, really, the major issue I have is that the second chapter feels tacked on and unnecessary. Show her debilitated, sure. Provide the contrast between public appearances and behind closed doors, let there be no doubt the depths of her dark mind, but don't then try to make up some silly apocalypse scenario. There are huge, glaring plot holes and a complete disregard for science (oh, all the electrics don't work? I have no idea why the merging of two atmospheres would release some sort of electro-magnetic pulse but I'm hardly an expert. Well yes that would cause the cars to no longer start but... hang on, how on earth did you get that electric golf cart going?) that shouldn't have been made. The film is slow, spending well over an hour following a woman around her wedding with very little happening. There is no point to any of it, and perhaps that was, ironically the point; the notion that life is, just like this film, completely and utterly pointless. So sit back smile and embrace the end of your life. Or y'know, actually live it. Come to think of it, I'd rather do that and actually enjoy myself rather than bore myself looking for meaning where there's none to be found. Here's to hoping Trier snaps out of it.