The third and final pic in our trilogy-of-films-we-didn’t-really-want-to-see is Lars von Trier’s Melancholia. Trier (the “von” is an affectation) is like Almodóvar, in that I’ve never seen one of his movies until recently, though von Trier is a bit more avant-garde with his last film featuring all sorts of depravity, mutilations and infanticide, I’m told. Trier famously sympathized with Hitler at Cannes a few months ago, said shenanigans earning him a trip to the principal’s office for violating various stupid European laws.
In essence, he proved there was something stupider than sympathizing with Hitler.
That kind of sums up this movie, in a weird way. Just about every predictable criticism you could level against this film is true—and yet…there’s some there there.
The movie opens with about a 5-10 minute encapsulation of the film done in super-slow-mo super-high-res glory, culminating with the earth being smashed by a giant planet. To Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde no less. And…scene. This is done so that you have no delusions about how this story is going to play out.
Part 1 of the movie involves Justine (Kirsten Dunst), blushing bride, at her reception. Thing is, she’s depressed. Her mom’s (Charlotte Rampling) a total bitch. She gets up at the wedding to make a speech on the futility of marriage. Also she’s dressed really inappropriately (and in the fashion of a rampaging planet). Dad’s (John Hurt) a flibberdagibbet who can’t keep one Betty straight from another. Her sister (Charlotte Gaisnbourg) and wealthy brother-in-law (Keifer Sutherland) have spent a lot of money on this lavish party to try to make her happy, and all Justine wants to do is hide from everyone and sleep and take baths. And occasionally have some sort of sexual interaction with her husband or, you know, whomever.
What we have, in other words, is an externalized picture of severe depression, possibly manic-depression but I’m not up on my DSM, and there’s a high degree of stylization here. I mean, within a few hour period, Justine is in love, married, fights with her parents, gets a promotion, gets fired, has an affair, ruins her marriage, etc.
Nobody really gets that she’s depressed beyond depression. Nobody can accept it. It is a really good dramatization of how depressed people feel, I think.
As you might imagine, this is not incredibly entertaining. It’s kind of interesting. But it’s also kind of self-indulgent. Kind of way self-indulgent. And that makes sense, really, because depression is self-indulgent on some level.
But that ain’t peanuts compared to part two, focused nominally on Clair, Justine’s sister, who’s trying to help her out of this depression. Clair seems like a good woman with a perfect life. She doesn’t have Justine’s good looks but she’s married to Jack Bauer and somehow he’s gotten incredibly rich. She has a nice son.
Clair’s problem? The world is ending.
The big ol’ rogue planet Melancholia is going to smash into earth in about five days. Her husband Jack—okay, his real name in the movie is John—has reassured her that Melancholia is going to pass by Earth, not only leaving it unscathed but creating the most beautiful astronomical event of anyone’s lifetime.
Meanwhile, in the most realistic use of the Internet ever shown in cinema, Clair can’t help herself from going to the Internet and reinforcing her sense of DOOM! Weirder still, her basket case sister Justine, who can barely feed herself at the beginning of this part, seems to be growing stronger and eerier as The End looms nigh.
As part one is a semi-literal rather narcissistic depiction of depression, part two is a completely allegorical utterly narcissistic and nihilistic depiction of same: Depression isn’t just going to destroy Justine, it’s going to destroy the Earth and everything that Earth ever was or stood for.
“Life is a mistake,” Justine says at one point. “Life is only on Earth. And not for long.”
So. Yeah. About as subtle as a hand grenade. As subtle as Wagner. As subtle as Lars von Trier apologizing for making such a perfect movie, and hoping people would somehow be able to find flaws in it to enjoy. As subtle as sympathizing with Hitler.
I could do a whole page of “as subtle as” from this movie. As subtle as the 19th hole on a golf course. As subtle as guessing—knowing—the number of beans in a jar. As subtle as wearing a dress that looks like the surface of an incoming rogue planet. As subtle as showing Kirsten Dunst naked and frail-looking at the beginning of part two and then later showing her naked and erotically bathing in Melancholia’s light.
As subtle as making sure everyone knows Dunst appears naked to shore up your box office.
You know, we didn’t hate it, The Boy and I, though The Boy had to go out and get a refill on the mega-beverage they give you at the theater.
Trier definitely has some skills. And it’s not hard to see why actors like working for him. Dunst gets to have scene-after-scene that’s sort of like an actor’s workshop. The very artificiality and pretentiousness is grist for the actor’s mill.
And it’s not consistently boring. The problem with being this unsubtle is that you really don’t need to spend an hour on each part, no matter how enamored you are with your various ways of re-stating the same thing over-and-over again. Especially when you go out of your way to beat the audience out of any semblance of hope or meaning.
Not something one can casually recommend to just anyone. In fact, not something one could argue against, if you wanted to say “this is a pretentious piece of self-indulgent crap”. But just like I can’t really explain why I don’t particularly like Scorcese, I can’t really explain why I sorta liked this.