Melencholia explores the nature of depression, happiness and family discontent in epic fashion via an apocalypse at an extravagant wedding. “I may have made a film I don’t like.” Why? … “This film is perilously close to the aesthetic of American mainstream films.” This being of tamer subdued statements, it’s easy to find Lars Von Trier pretentious or perhaps misunderstood when speaking publicly about his work, which can lead to his pieces being over shadowed. The opening 8min overture is a theatrical, dramatic collection of beautiful apocalyptic images set to Wagner’s ‘Tristan and Isolde’. The ethereal dream like compositions echo sequences similar to Emmanuel Lubezki and Terrence Malick’s cinematography collaboration on ‘The Tree of Life’ as well photographer Gregory Crewdson’s work with the almost static picture like use of frames, heavily lit other worldly lighting.
The film is divided into two sections the first being Justine (Dunst). Justine a discontented advertising executive tries her best to play happy bride, sister, daughter only to fail. The awkward contrived atmosphere of the wedding reception proceeded by the inner family squabbling causes her to dissociate herself with the celebrations. She seems to fall into her familiar mental space of solitude and depression. The marriage falls apart almost immediately, sending her into a deeper episode. The second section called ‘Claire’ after Justine’s sister (Gainsbourg), explores in more detail the nature of the two sisters relationship and perhaps the effect of Justine’s depression on it. Gainsbourg delivers an intriguing cold acidic performance but then only to give into natural hysteria due to Melancholia’s looming collision. Claire initially has to take care of a ‘rock bottom’ Justine who eventually ends up being the more stable of the two.
As Justine has resigned to her own personal world collapsing she is able to face a real apocalypse with calm, somber sense of acceptance instead of Claire’s panic and hysteria. Reading reviews from Cannes hailing ‘Melancholia’ as Kirsten Dunst’s break out role seemed comical as the 29year old actress has had a major presence in Hollywood most of her life. However her performance here does progress her career in a different direction. Her ability to consistently draw out an emotionally rattled yet reserved subtle performance is brilliant.
There is no impending doom which keeps audiences at the edge of seats awaiting a science fiction climax, this is settled in a strange wonderful tone during the opening. Lars Von Trier has produced an unapologetic, self interested piece of work which is cathartic for him as a director yet sometimes long winded and lethargic for audiences. Where ‘Dogville’ and ‘The Idiots’ explored social structure and the nature of humanity when this is altered, Melancholia is about dread. There is an unexplored look at family dysfunction, we are never sure how close Justine and Claire are to their mother and her charming father disappears in Justine’s time of need. There is a larger sense that none of it matters at the end of the world. In a literal form the planet ‘Melancholia’ and the end of the world is a narrative vehicle to explore depression on an individual scale and perhaps to address his own demons on a cinematic scale.
Von Von Lamunu