by Andrew Mooney
Melancholia (2011) – Lars Von Trier (Dir.), Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg
This was the movie that started the game. It was not selected at random, rather by the fact that I wanted something hard and Von-Trier-esque and wasn’t quite ready for the rape/baby killing/talking-satan-dogs of Antichrist. This little ditty is two parts, one an exploration of a woman with severe depression systematically sabotaging her own wedding and career, and the other the story of her sister trying to hold together her family while a ‘rogue planet’ crashes into Earth. Killing everyone. It’s fun for the whole family!
In all seriousness, it’s plain to see Von Trier is a Director with a capital ‘D’. From his over-the-top opening, displaying every leitmotif that will be depicted throughout the film to the sort of abstract-visual-spark-notes of the film’s plot, you can tell you are watching a ‘Film‘. And yes, it’s good. It’s dark. It’s challenging. But you do, at points, just want to take the man and whisper tenderly in his ear, “Did your mother not hug you enough when you were a little ‘un? Do you need another Cadbury Cream Egg?” The answer, of course, is always a begrudging ‘yes’. My feelings on Cream Eggs aside, Trier has some problems. Though I’ve never seen any of his movies before, I have been bedazzled by his insane rants at film festival journalists, his offhanded comments about the merits of Nazism and his dogmatic rules about film-making; so I’m no stranger to the one-man-party that is Lars Von Trier.
The frustration with diving into the mind of a man with severe depression is that I’m simply not on his level. Of course, it’s a fascinating activity to emotionally spelunk into the depths of a manic-depressing, but you only want to stay in the hole a little while before it become infectious. Melancholia was 2.5 hours long and it felt like 5. Each part, around an hour and fifteen each, was, in essence, its own movie. The acting, particularly in the first part, is almost universally phenomenal. Finally, Ms. Dunst has restored to her true form, last seen in the 1993 tour de force Jumanji.The second get wobbly, though still pretty stellar throughout. Ms. Gainsbourg has a tendency to slip in and out of a close approximation of a British accent. It’s the end of the world. Who cares? If she wishes to renounce Britishness before the oncoming apocalypse, power to her. I would.
The discussion part. I could make faces at the agonizing choices Dunst’ character makes over and over and over again during the course of the film. I could raise questions about the supposed trajectory of this mythical planet ‘Melancholia’ and how it absolutely disregards the laws of General Relativity and gravitational pull. But that’s not the point. The thing that truly stuck with me after watching the whole world get blasted in a blaze of green light (SPOILER ALERT…sorry, little late on that one…) was the juxtaposition of the two halves. As ham-fisted as the opening is, it tells you right off the bat what’s going to happen. You just have to witness it. And it does happen. Slowly. Very, very slowly. Dunst throws fits at her wedding, takes impromptu baths, humps an intern on a golf course, quits her job and teases her new hubby, the very not-vampire, puppy-face, you’re-waiting-for-him-to-be-a-vampire, Alexander Skarsgard.
It’s the juxtaposition. That’s what it’s all about. You have a wedding, this thing that is so essential to the lives of its attendees that it nearly drives them insane. The planner, a hilariously misplaced Udo Kier (whose greatest role will always be the douchiest vampire of all time in Wesley Snipes’ magnum opus: Blade) literally stops looking at Dunst because she “ruined his wedding”. Her father, a lithe John Hurt, is constantly hitting on two homely bridesmaids, both named Bettie. Her mother bursts into fits of rage saying, “I hate weddings” and then, appropriately, takes a bath. It’s pointless. All of it is pointless. She screws over a man who loves her. She quits her job. She fucks everything up. And it doesn’t matter because a planet is coming and it’s going to wipe them all out of existence. Von Trier has managed to further trivialize that which already seemed so insatiably trivial: the problems of the ultra-rich.
On the one hand you have Dunst, who, by the end, is so accepting of her fate that she just enjoys the ride. And then, on the other, you have Gainsbourg desperately trying to hold everything together. All that stress, all that worrying, all that anxiety is useless in the end. You’re still going to crawl into that little tent of sticks with your son and your bat-shit, self-possessed sister and watch the world disappear. There’s a zen-like peace to Dunst’s fatalism in the final scenes. As electricity courses from her fingertips, as the atmosphere collapses, she seems at ease in her depression-induced nirvana.
So, Mr. Von Trier may have many issues but he certainly knows how to make a technically incredible film. My only advice to him…stop being an asshole. Or maybe, be more of an asshole. It’s hard to tell. Maybe my prayers will be answered with Antichrist a little further down the line. It’s in the pot. Waiting.
I won’t ever watch Melancholia again. You should. You might enjoy it. You probably won’t. Again, that’s not the point. The aim is to take a little waltz through that wonderfully self-destructive brain of Mr. Trier and hope you make it out with all limbs intact.
Also, to those of you wondering…not to be crass, but Kirsten Dunst has incredible breasts. I had never noticed before. Like…amazing. It almost pulled me out of it when I had to say to myself, “Bravo, milady.” And then I gave a polite clap of congratulations before returning to eating toast in bed. Whole wheat toast. Peanut butter. I’m a classy mutherfucker, if you weren’t aware.