Melancholia (review)

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Kirsten Dunst in Melancholia

Tree of Death

Depression is like an enormous rogue planet entering your solar system and ripping your world apart. Just ask Kirsten Dunst. She was an ordinary young woman until crippling clinical depression caused her to brush off her new husband on their wedding night — geez, she was probably a disastrous mess long before then and should never even have agreed to marry the poor sap — and when she tried to endure it alone, the Jupiter-sized planet Melancholia came out of nowhere and pulverized Earth.
You don’t have to suffer alone — or destroy your civilization, species, and in all likelihood all life in the universe in the process. Seek treatment… and ask your doctor about Larsvontrieramide, for clinical depression and symbolic planetary destruction syndrome.

I’m not spoiling anything by telling you that Melancholia ends with poor ol’ lovely green Terra getting ripped apart by a much larger, much greener rogue planet. Because the movie opens that way, too. Like how movies used to start with an overture. You know, you’d go sit in the cinema and listen to the best bits from the score from Gone with the Wind or Lawrence of Arabia before Gone with the Wind or Lawrence of Arabia unspooled itself onscreen. Except here, writer-director Lars von Trier (Dogville, Dancer in the Dark), who is very arty and European and stuff, gives us a gorgeous slo-mo front-seat look at the literal end of the world. There is no Bruce Willis saving the day here. It’s all Kirsten Dunst’s hair standing up on end as static electricity charges the planetary atmosphere and Charlotte Gainsbourgh running with her young son clasped to her as if there were someplace to hide. And then *boom*! Gorgeous, slo-mo, BBC documentary-style live-from-space footage as Earth crumbles like a china cup smashed against its new neighbor. You’ll expect David Attenborough to be narrating something about how violent yet how magnificent nature is.

If you think I’m going on and on about it, that’s nothing to how von Trier pornifies the destruction of humanity. Not in a Michael Bay way, of course. In a Euro arthouse metaphor sort of way. That makes it okay, I guess. It’s okay because it is only a metaphor. I guess.

Except it’s the most ridiculous metaphor I think I’ve ever seen on film. It’s as bad, in its own way, as Michael Bay having Bruce Willis gleefully talking about drilling that bitch of an asteroid that’s heading straight for Earth in Armageddon.

The rogue planet makes its first appearance in the skies — althought no one quite realizes it at that moment — on the evening of the wedding of Justine (Dunst: How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, Spider-Man 3) and Michael (Alexander Skarsgård). After the destructo-overture, the entire first half of the film is given over the painfully awkward wedding reception, which mostly involves Justine constantly running away from her new husband and boinking strangers on the lawn, Michael moping, Justine’s bitter old lemon of a mother (Charlotte Rampling: Never Let Me Go, The Duchess) saying shit like “Enjoy it while it lasts.” Meaning marriage, of course. But it’s really about life on Earth. The party ends with the end of the marriage, basically, as Michael takes off, never to be seen again in the film. Though just try and escape the depressive wrath of Justine, Michael, why don’t you?

Cut to months later, when Justine, now literally crippled with depression — she can barely walk — returns to the manor of her sister, Claire (Gainsbourgh: I’m Not There, The Science of Sleep) and her husband, John (Kiefer Sutherland: Marmaduke, Monsters), where the wedding took place. The rogue planet — yes, it is actually called Melancholia, in case you mightn’t catch on to the metaphor — now looms large in the sky. John revels in watching it through his telescope, for he believes the scientists who say (offscreen) that it’s going to pass safely by; Claire is terrified; and Justine lapses deeper into her funk, thereby dooming humanity.

We might be expected to presume that Justine willed Melancholia into existence: she notes unemotionally to Claire at one late moment that “life on Earth is evil,” so, you know, good riddance to it. Justine is going down, and she’s taking us all with her.

Life’s a bitch, and then we all die. All at once. But it’s a beautiful death. So whatev.

Watch Melancholia online via Amazon Instant Video.

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Sun, Oct 12, 2014 10:18pm

Is this what passes for film criticism these days? My god. I look for criticism to expand my mind and teach me something new, not to regurgitate the film’s plot in a hangdog, half-assed way while inserting snarky, smug half-thoughts of a submoronic pre-teen. Take a break from your ‘reviews,’ study the masters of film criticism and actually contribute something of value to the conversation.

Sun, Jan 21, 2018 1:51pm

2001 is a favourite. I’m not a fan of Von Trier, but I really liked Melancholia. It had this special, weird, dark feeling, that built up to a nice climax at the end. Difficult to watch again though. It’s not like 2001 or films like Red October which I’ve seen a million times.