Friday, November 25, 2011

(Review) Lars Von Trier's "Melancholia"

I watched this movie in the comforts of my friend Surya's living room on Thanksgiving night. We started it at midnight and we were already one bottle of Jack Daniels down and well onto finishing a second of Bushmills. After a day of drinking and feasting, we decided to actually go out to the movies and saw "The Immortals" (made by the creators of "The 300" and, we all agreed, surprisingly well done), so there was really no reason for us to even be awake, much less have the desire to watch a movie we both knew was going to be highly experimental.

Lars Von Trier is known, much like Terrence Malick, for making strange and beautiful movies with an often overbearing amount of darkness to them. This one comes not long after his much talked about "Antichrist," starring Willem Defoe, a movie I am now determined to watch within the next few days after having finished "Melancholia."

The movie is broken up into two parts; "Part 1: Justine" and "Part 2: Claire" and begins with Justine (played by Kirsten Dunst) and her newly wedded husband stuck in the back of a limo trying to make its way up an incredibly windy dirt road. They are two hours late to their own reception and once they arrive, we get to see the intriguing dynamics of all the family members. For one, Von Trier doesn't really give us much background on any of the characters - we're simply along for the ride and if you haven't strapped in yet, you'll fall off during the first loop-de-loop. A certain kind of willing suspension of disbelief is needed as both my friend and I agreed - it felt like the married couple, and many of the guests themselves, were involved in incestuous relationships. This isn't explicitly stated, but there are a few spoken moments that lean towards this being the case. Perhaps this is an unintentional narrative slip, perhaps not. If there is any truth to it, it becomes completely irrelevant to the rest of the story, but we both picked up on an incestuous vibe and we're both very particular about spotting details like that, both in novels and in movies.

There is an unexplained despondency in Justine's character. She can't seem to will herself to be happy despite the fact that it's her wedding day. Her boss, played by Stellan Starsgaard, hounds her throughout the evening in trying to get a tagline for their new ad campaign, even putting his nephew on her as well. Her new husband acts like a man in love; he wants to make love to his wife at the end of the night, he wants her to be happy, and he wants the night to go smoothly. None of this happens and we see him leave his own wedding night when he falls into his own despondency because of her emotional detachment. The wedding was all in order to help Justine come out of her depression, but she can't raise up out of it, which ends up bringing everyone else down despite all the work and time that's gone into the event purely for her benefit.

In "Part 2: Claire," we're firmly in the viewpoint of Justine's sister, who was also her wedding planner. Claire, played by Charlotte Gainesbourg, is married to Kiefer Sutherland's character, an astronomer paying close attention to a planet that appears to be on a collision course with Earth. Kiefer constantly assuages her fears that the planet is not going to collide with them, but will rather come into their orbit and pass by without much fanfare. He even goes so far as to create a crude device for her - a stick attached to a coiled metal circle. When the stick is pressed against her chest and aimed up at the looming planet, she can see the size of the planet within; if the planet appears both inside and outside the metal ring, it's getting closer. If the planet's size is encapsulated completely within the metal ring, the planet is far way and possibly shrinking.

During this post-wedding time, Justine comes to live with Claire and her husband. Her depression has completely overtaken her and the overbearing mood brings everyone down yet again. It is only during the last twenty minutes of the movie, when we approach the climax, that Justine's mood changes into something less despondent and more calm. The blank look in her eyes becomes a kind of willing acceptance of what fate has to offer them all. What she has been depressed about can now be understood with more clarity.

I won't ruin the ending, but I will say this: Surya didn't enjoy the movie as much as I did, but we both agreed that it was fantastically quirky and rendered beautifully. The opening montage of images were, if not confusing, at least gripping. Von Trier has made an incredibly gorgeous movie, but the ending seemed to come too fast and without much in the way of resolution, so it fell a little flat for the both of us. Taking that initial response into account, however, that may have been the point to Von Trier's work. Time is precious. Family is precious. Emotions can be overpowering despite the moments in which we exist, despite the mood we're supposed to have during these times.


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