Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Melancholia (2011)

Title: Melancholia (2011)

Director: Lars Von Trier

Cast: Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kiefer Sutherland, John Hurt, Alexander Skarsgard, Stellan Skarsgard, Udo Kier


Director Lars Von Trier’s films always have this acid, depressive, sad outlook on life. Ever seen Antichrist (2009)? If you haven’t seen it yet, let me tell you, it’s an overdose of sadness and despair. I mean look at Von Trier’s latest film: Melancholia; the title says it all actually. The word melancholia refers to a form of abnormal sadness, sadness so deep that it can become a form of insanity. And Melancholia is just that; two hours of pure unadulterated sadness, and that’s fine by me because when you really stop to think about it, how sad is life on this planet? How truly sad are the conditions under which our society lives in? I mean, yes, many things can cause us happiness, many moments can bring us joy, but when we look at the big picture, when we look at how the world is being run, it is a sad, depressive state of affairs.

In Melancholia we meet two sisters: Justine and Claire. Justine has just gotten married and she is on her way to her wedding reception. On the surface, she seems happy, the way every bride should be. At first it seems that nothing can destroy the happiness between the happy couple. But as the evening progresses, it becomes quite evident that Justine isn’t happy at all, in fact she is the opposite, depressed beyond belief. Will she be able to go through with this night? With the responsibilities expected of her after marriage? What is really bringing Justine down so much? Claire, Justine’s older sister is trying to keep Justine’s emotions under control, but it seems nothing can control Justine’s gloom and doom. At the same time, a giant planet called Melancholia is headed straight towards us, and apparently will completely obliterate Planet Earth. Will Melancholia destroy us, or will it pass us by?

So yeah, I was blown away by this movie, yeah its constant sadness can be a bit overwhelming at times, but I have to admit there’s a meaning behind the sadness, a reason for it. And when we analyze the root of the sadness, it is completely merited. Let’s see, greed is swallowing humanity whole, children die of hunger every day. There is such a thing as child slavery in our modern world. Most of us think we aren’t slaves, that slavery is something of the past, but is it? The masses are being lied to, and really, when we get down to it, how much of what we hold to be true, really isn’t? How many people live under the assumption that everything they’ve been taught is true, when in fact it isn’t? How unfair and selfish are governments? How selfish are the rich and powerful? How much more could humanity be doing to improve life on this planet so that everyone can be happy? Why must one class rule over the other? Why can’t we all just live happily in this world? Why do we give such importance to trivial things that don’t really matter? How sad is it that we are being programmed to consume by the media? How much of what we see and read on the news is a lie? I mean…so many things can make it sad to live on this planet. The ideas that this film transmits are very true, in general, things on this planet can make anyone extremely sad. Melancholia really explores the idea that when we “wake up”, that when we get to know how this world is really being run, when we truly open our eyes and see how things really are, the truth of it all can make you bitter and sad.

This film sends a big “fuck you” to all the bullshit; and excuse my French, but this is exactly what the film does. This is exactly what Von Trier is saying. The film does this by using marriage as a starting point to analyze humanity and the things we choose to give importance to. In the film, during Justine’s wedding reception, when everyone has to say something nice to the Bride and Groom, Justine’s mother stands up and says “I don’t believe in marriage, so enjoy it while it lasts, which won’t be long”, which is a brutally honest comment on marriage. Why do you need to sign a piece of paper to be in love with someone? Do you really need to go through this whole legal process to bind your life to another especially when it’s supposed to be “forever”? I’ve always thought marriage can be a huge farce because most of the time, five years later, people can’t stand each other. I've always thought that life is so mutable, so ever changing that committing to something "forever" is really saying a lie. Most of the time what happens is that couples get bored with each other. So then they have kids and complicate the inevitable break up that will come anyways. I’ve recorded a couple of weddings (something I do on the side) and every time they get to the part where they promise themselves forever, I think “yeah right”. I mean, yeah it’s a beautiful thought to be able to live through life with the same person forever, and kudos to those who achieve it and are truly happy, but it’s almost a fairy tale like idea, and fairytales are far from reality. The reality is that most couples will end up getting divorced in less than five years. And what about all the rituals you go through during the actual marriage? At one point, Justine’s mother gets away from the reception and when someone tries to find her she tells them to “fuck off with your stupid traditions!” What the film is trying to say is that it’s all insignificant and pointless when we take in consideration the issues that should really matter in life; the bigger issues that we should all be aiming to improve on collectively, instead of worrying about old traditions and trivial things that really don’t matter in the end.

The question the film asks is, would it matter if humanity was suddenly obliterated from existence? Doesn’t humanities evil warrant its destruction? I’m a realist when it comes to things of this nature. I know how evil man can be. I know how evil man is being right now as I type this, but I choose to be hopeful. I choose to be of the ones who holds on to the idea that humanity will one day get past all these age old hang ups and mature. That one day, after all these lessons we’ve learned through the ages, that we will all want the best for all of us. That greed will one day dissipate, that we will find a way for all of us to be happy on this huge spaceship called earth. Wishful thinking? I hope not, because if these ideas are all just wishful thinking, if humanity will stay stuck in a never ending circle of evil, then I will have to be just as sad and melancholic as Kirsten Dunst’s character on this film. Her sadness reaches such lengths that she cant even move her legs to walk, it is so powerful that even her favorite food tastes bad. Her sadness totally engulfs her; melancholic is the perfect way to describe her. Justine, her sister, is the opposite. She tries to see everything in a positive way. She tries to help her sister, aiding her through her despair. I thought it was interesting how both sisters represented different ways of seeing the world. Justine sees things for what they are, and Claire represents the more idealistic way of looking at things, which isn’t always the most realistic way of seeing things.

The cast is a superb one; I was amazed at how much talent was up there on the screen. Kirsten Dunst looks absolutely stunning on this film. I think most guys out there will agree after seeing this film that Kirsten Dunst has one of the most amazing bodies in Hollywood, a true beauty. Her performance bares all, it is a very vulnerable and sincere performance, I loved it. Deep down inside she hates humanity and everything it has come to represent. She feels a greater connection with the universe, which she loves to gaze at, and nature. At one point she simply chooses to sit naked in the middle of the forest and look at the stars. The symbolisms being that she wants to disconnect from everything and just be totally free. Charlote Gainsbourg, who can now be considered a Von Trier regular (she also starred in Von Trier’s Antichrist) plays the idealist, the polar opposite of Justine. In many ways, she’s the kind of person who wants to turn a blind eye to the way things really are and chooses to see things in an idealistic, albeit unrealistic way. Though the are sisters and care for each other, they are really very different people. Kiefer Sutherland also plays the idealist. I was glad to see him in a film that is actually good; and not in crap like Mirrors (2008). John Hurt plays Justine’s father, a playful and happy man who laughs at life and enjoys not taking things too seriously, which I felt a connection with. Udo Kier made me laugh as the wedding planner, a small role, yet Kier is one of the few “funny” things about the film. All in all, an amazing cast.    

Some might find this film to be a bit difficult to sit through because of its constant sadness, but hey, what can you expect from a film called Melancholia or for that matter,  a film from director Lars Von Trier? True, the film is filled with gloom and doom, but Von Trier balances it all out with gorgeous visuals, beautiful cinematography and settings. I also enjoyed the fact that even though this is a film about “the end of the world” so to speak, it focuses on a more personal story. If this film had been directed by say Michael Bay, it would have been all about meteorites destroying buildings and cars exploding and chaos on the city streets, but on Von Trier’s hands, this film is about a rich family who lives in an isolated mansion, far away from the masses. The last moments of this film are truly gripping, and the film has one of the best endings I’ve ever seen on any movie, truly gripping. You’ll feel that you got front row sits to the end of the world! Kudos to Von Trier, that ending left me gasping. This film would have certainly been on my “Best of 2011” list had I seen it when I wrote the list, but alas, I saw it after. Still, just make believe I put it on there because it truly was one of the best of the year. 

Rating: 5 out of 5


Dan O. said...

Dunst was very good in this role but her character was just a little mopey for my liking. However, von Trier keeps his artistic vision in-tact and although there are moments of boredom, it still all comes together so well in the last 40 minutes. Great review.

Franco Macabro said...

Dan O.: I guess their was no way Justine couldnt come off as mopey, she was a character suffering from extreme depression, the kind that wont let you come out of bed, or even walk. Agree, those last 40 minutes are amazing! Edge of your sit stuff!

Thanks for commenting!

Unknown said...

We are totally on the same page with this one! Loved this film and I would rank it right up there with THE TREE OF LIFE as my fave film of 2011.

You say: "This film sends a big “fuck you” to all the bullshit; and excuse my French, but this is exactly what the film does."

hah! I love it. I also think that Von Trier is pissing all over disaster film directors like Roland Emmerich and Michael Bay as if to say, "oh yeah? I can make the same kind of film only a smaller budget and much, much better." He outclasses them every step of the way with a devastating film that haunted me for days after.

I also amazed at what a fantastic performance Von Trier got out of Kirsten Dunst. Who woulda thought? That alone is a pretty impressive achievement but I think she wisely deferred to his diretion and man, did she deliver the goods. Sure hope she gets an Oscar nomination but I have a feeling she'll get snubbed for more traditional fare.

You really delivered an awesome review. Makes me want to watch the film again.

Franco Macabro said...

J.D.: I actualy noticed some similarities between Melancholia and Tree of Life during those sequences that take place in space, with classical music playing in the background! But yeah, definetly as good as Tree of Life. I'd have put it in the top five of my Best of 2011 list had I seen it before I wrote the list.

The fact that this was an "end of the world" disaster film and that it was done without all the disaster movie cliches is what I loved about it. I mean, here we are, the worlds about to end and the film focuses on these three people...yet I felt lots of tension during those last few moments!

Agree about Dunst's performance, it was great. It's interesting to note that Von Trier had Penelope Cruz in mind for the role the whole time, but she turned this film down to work on Pirates of the Caribbean 4! I'm actually glad this happened, Dunst was beyond beautiful on this film. Now I cant imagine the film without her.

Unknown said...

Agreed. I can't imagine this film without Dunst. Interesting about Cruz. Bad choice on her part. Going for the paycheck instead of a more artsier, challenging film. Of course, she might have been nervous about working with Von Trier who is notorious for putting his leading ladies through the emotional ringer.

Franco Macabro said...

Agree, I think she might have chickened out, but they actually said it was a scheduling conflict between both films, contractual obligations and the such.

But Von Trier and Cruz were talking about working on the project for a while, actually it was Cruz who suggested that he direct an adaptation of a play called "The Maids" by Jean Genet. He didnt end up directing an adaptation of that play, but he did use it as a source of inspiration for Melancholia.

Maybe they'll end up working on something in the future.


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