Lars Von Trier may have said that his best work comes when he’s intoxicated. Booze and all, you know…but this isn’t the guy with whisky in on hand, with a barely comprehensible script in another, and embodies Hollywood’s real life version of Llewyn Davis. This guy has some great movies and he’s won several awards through the course of his career, so naturally I’m really excited to check out his filmography as soon as I can. But in the meantime, let me introduce one of his works I’ve heard a great deal about. When I finally saw it, I mulled over as the credits rolled, opening an explosion of after-thoughts as the film closed. Melancholia is an enthralling movie. Miserable and magical. Tragically optimistic; Sullenly disquieting but also surprisingly triumphant. But perhaps the most startling aspect of Von Trier’s artistic experiment, as you will come to realize, isn’t how it often creates an oxymoronic feeling…but how the impending end of the world is secondary to what will happen on a fateful wedding night.
Melancholia’s opening sequence may send shivers down your spine. In a good way. Because Lars Von Trier’s opening is art-house like none other. Some openings provide a flashing montage of disconnected images, Melancholia’s opening 7 minutes is an exercise in patient absurdity. Slow-slow-mo.tio.n. In one scene, earth edges closer to a nebulous galactical mass. In another, Kirsten Dunst (Justine) gives a Mona-Lisa like stare for 20 seconds, with an expression far more cryptic than anything I’ve seen before. In another scene, tree roots attach themselves to Justine in bridal clothing who looks to set herself free. Lars Von Trier’s ‘norm’ is an extremity of sexual tension, violence, horror, anxiety and depression. I can’t speak for his other films, but Melancholia doesn’t actually put the audience off. It draws you in with very real characters who experience pretty much very normal things. The wedding night is particularly insightful and credit must be given to Von Trier’s minimalistic approach. Given his reputation, I was pleasantly surprised by the subtlety in the dramatic tension that bubbles just beneath the very surface. Justine clearly feels out of place at her own wedding and the whole affair is only adding to her increasingly distraught emotional state. She has multiple breakdowns as sparks fly from all sides from the unsupportive mother to the awkward husband to the entitled brother-in-law.
Melancholia’s atmospheric soundtrack plays every once in a while as if to hauntingly remind us that nothing is as what it seems. As the film progresses, Justine’s irrationalities become a thorough and perplexing psychological exploration. It’s clear she’s depressed, but what exactly cripples her is up for debate. Just as soon as you’re about to form an interpretation of Justine’s condition, Lars Von Trier throws in another curveball you wouldn’t expect. I won’t spoil it anymore, but what’s so really interesting about Melancholia is such a provocative study of the human condition. Yes, depression’s a thematic core which festers itself quite brilliantly with much nuance. Hats off to the actors for portraying such depth. But like a throbbing drum beat, the film becomes a limitlessly complex piece on our overall psyche and how, with each impending moment inching closer to universal destruction, ‘death’ can be at once something so horrifyingly debilitating and something of a transcendant escape. Von Trier wants us to know the end of the world is inevitable by making it explicitly clear at the start…which answers why Melancholia isn’t actually a sci-fi film per se. That was never really the point
In the recent age, I would say movies from 2010 and onwards, sci-fi has taken an interesting turn. Granted, there are still block-busters churning out recycled ideas of guns blazin’ and the idea that we humans must always somehow ‘fight’. Yes, fight, fight, we must fight whoever comes at us. Aliens, predators, mother-ships, mother-aliens, and evil entities with scary faces and insane powers. Then there are others which are leaps and bounds ahead of their bumbling counterparts who fumble around in starships and destructanoid vortexes (I just made that word up, who cares, sci-fi right?) More insightful films have been able to add a simple dramatic element that changes everything. Like Her, Inception, Ex Machina and a few others, Melancholia’s tagline is aptly fitting. And more often than not, the real aliens are ourselves. Disconnect. Alienated. Unresolved. Lars Von Trier’s film isn’t removed but is instead attuned to the humanistic tendencies. At first I thought Melancholia was wholly nilhilistic, then I started to feel some hope but finally found there was neither gloom nor solace. There was only life and death. That in itself, strangely as it turned out, gave me peace.
Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Charlotte Gainsburg (Claire) really outdid themselves because now I can’t imagine anyone else who could’ve played their roles. Great credit must be given to Kirsten Dunst, the role really fit her melancholic expressions. She was devastatingly powerful. At the end of it all, it is clear that Melancholia is a film that excels on all sides. A thing I tend to fear about art-house films is that they tend to veer off a promising path, and opt for something so artsy that it’s message becomes confused and fragmented. Melancholia is easy to grasp and insists upon letting the audience derive the pleasure of knowing what’s behind the abstract. In the end, I was satisfied that despite the fact that it was melancholic for most of its running time, it’s the one film that encompasses the human condition.
p.s. Kirsten Dunst is really hot