Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Melancholy of “Melancholia”: Wedding-Gone-Wrong, World's End, and Thoughts about Human Despair

Melancholia

Note: this review might reveal some clues about the movie’s plot (which you might find a bit spoiler-y) but I assure you it won’t ruin your excitement in watching the movie. I don’t know much about Lars von Trier previously, but some internet browsing got me informed about the Danish director’s style of filmmaking. And “Melancholia”, the second film in his “Trilogy of Depression” after “Antichrist”, describes a pretty blatant controversy about despair and melancholy in the time when earth is about to collide with an alien planet.

Instead of opening credit, we will be served with beautiful, Malick-y slow-motion shots of metaphorical images and celestial portraits, while “Tristan und Isolde” by Richard Wagner playing in the background. Then we will find out there are two halves of the movies: part 1 called “Justine” and part 2 called “Claire”. Justine (Kirsten Dunst) is about to marry Michael (Alexander Skarsgård) in an estate owned by Justine’s sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and her husband John (Kiefer Sutherland), who also become the wedding organizer. Justine’s mom is Gaby (Charlotte Rampling) and Justine’s dad is Dexter (John Hurt). There are also Justine’s boss Jack (Stellan Skarsgård) and her co-worker Tim (Brady Corbet). And the wedding planner (Udo Kier) helps Claire and John prepare everything. Before Justine entering the party, she spots a peculiar bright red star in the evening sky, which John identifies as Antares. But as the wedding goes, Antares is missing and—as revealed in part 2—it turns out that a planet called Melancholia appears from behind the sun and makes a “fly-by” motion near earth.

Melancholia
Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Michale (Alexander Skarsgård) are newlywed couple in a remote estate owned by Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and John (Kiefer Sutherland).

In the beginning, you might simply think that “Melancholia” is about a wedding gone wrong. Justine and Michael is the worst bride and groom ever having married on earth, not to mention the family is also the worst family you want to deal with. Their limousine cannot drive them to the wedding party so they take a walk to the place, which make them late more than two hours from the schedule. Gaby makes the worst wedding speech ever been delivered (saying, “I don’t believe in marriage”), while Dexter keeps stealing the spoons and asks the waiter to get him new spoons over and over again. And Jack makes Tim follow her everywhere to get the tagline she has to create for the ad company she works at. Every single thing in “Melancholia” is destined to make us feel uneasy and despaired. We are continuously served with pieces of failure of this wedding party, and Claire’s continuous question to Justine (“are you happy?”) might also be the same question the film continuously asks to us. Are we (really) happy?

But curious viewers might see “Melancholia” more deeply. Again, it takes me some browsing to finally understand what the movie is really about. In the second half of the film, where the focus to earth’s being collided with Melancholia, it turns out that the wedding-gone-wrong scene is something deliberately translated into a beginning of a bigger despair coming up around the film ending. Collision of earth and other planet? This might sound so sci-fi but, believe me, there is no such thing in “Melancholia”. They are in a remote place and there is no connection to TV, newspaper, or even internet (“Have you been going online again?”), and they know nothing about what the government has done to prevent the catastrophe. But that is not the point. What von Trier aims with “Melancholia” is that we cannot do anything to overcome the depression that naturally approaches second by second. “Melancholia”, with its distinguished fashion of world’s end, tries to justify that we are helpless, and there is nothing we can do about it.

Melancholia
A planet called Melancholia is approaching earth.

Both Justine and Claire show this with their own way. Justine delivers hopelessness that viewers might see as either mourning or some sort of mental illness. Some viewers even see her as having a sixth sense, because she shows emotional reaction as Melancholia gets closer to earth. Claire, at first, is sympathetic. And yes she is a patient and nurturing sister. But then she begins to be puzzled by this Melancholia stuff, and as the time goes she becomes paranoid with it. Lars von Trier think that the two characters might reflect what human are supposed to feel when such a doom happens, but I have to agree with this discussion that our natural response to the catastrophe is finding an omnipotent power to rely on. Which is not found in the entire duration of “Melancholia”, possibly due to von Trier and the producer’s viewpoint about God and spirituality. When the world ends, I agree that some people might peacefully accept their fate, some other get so frightened and find useless help to escape, but I believe most of them will submit themselves to the greater being even though they are non-believer. And this is what significantly non-existent from “Melancholia”.

A few more thoughts about the acting, I would like to highlight that perhaps addressing Charlotte Gainsbourg as supporting actress is not correct. I think both Kirsten Dunst and her have a quite similar amount of showtime (even the second part is named after Claire), so Gainsbourg shares a place of Dunst’s winning of Best Actress in Cannes 2011.

Melancholia
Both Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg deliver nice resemblance of human nature in facing such a doom.

There are no smiles in “Melancholia”—well, there are only fake smiles that resemble fake happiness. “Melancholia” is more than just a melancholy of two powerless wives facing the end of the world. There are many layers interesting to dig about fate and faith of our lives. The way we see the movie represents how we see ourselves in such situation which, finally, reflects our beliefs in life. Will you be Justine-type of person or Claire-type of person?



Melancholia4 out of 5 stars

 ▲  Beautiful shots, questions about life and human despair, great acting by Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg
 ▼  Takes further thoughts to understand the meaning, multi-interpretative

MELANCHOLIA | COUNTRY Denmark YEAR 2011 RATING Rated R for some graphic nudity,sexual content and language RUNTIME 130 min GENRE Drama, Sci-Fi CAST Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Alexander Skarsgård, Kiefer Sutherland, John Hurt WRITER Lars von Trier DIRECTOR Lars von Trier MORE INFO


4 comments:

  1. Good review Akbar. As usual with von Trier, you can't expect there to be much happy thoughts going around, however, it didn't have to be this repetitive, giving us practically the same scene, one after another.

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    1. Agree, some might find it is boring and repetitive (and tiring, with the shaky camera), but at the time I watched it, I just thought that it's simply the way von Trier tell his story.

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  2. Loved this film. It was such an immersive exploration of depression. And that ending is sublime. As we moved to leave the cinema, I was worried the world would no longer exist outside. Impressive film making, right there.

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    1. The ending was fantastic! Too bad it is not screened in here

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