Review: Melancholia

melancholia-poster

There’s not really any guidelines to what makes it into a Missed Attraction for me. Since I’m basically doing this to fill space whenever I don’t have anything I feel like seeing, I can basically choose whatever I like. I am however trying to limit myself to movies from the past 5-10 years, otherwise this list is going to get flooded with a lot of stuff like Lynch and Cronenberg.

That said, I knew that I was going to wind up with some odd specimens for this list. The whole purpose of this recurring column is to bring attention to films I feel have been overlooked, and so that’s usually gonna come down to some very strange films. I’m gonna try to keep from going too weird too early (Dogtooth will eventually make an appearance, but not yet) but these movies are all gonna be, to one degree or another, out there.

So. Let’s talk about Lars von Trier.

Lars von Trier is a Danish avant-garde director, most associated with the Dogme 95 movement. My space here is limited, so I won’t go too far into Dogme 95 (the best way to make a Dogme 95 movie is to not make a movie), but suffice to say that despite being a founding member of the movement, he only made one film that even sort of adhered to its tenant and immediately abandoned them. That’s not a complaint, incidentally. I’m not a huge fan of Dogme 95.

I’m not 100 percent sure on what his most famous movie among mainstream audiences is, but I’m fairly certain it’s either Dogville or Antichrist. My favorite by him is probably still Dogville, but that’s too old for this column and Antichrist is way too transgressive for me to review here this early (plus I’d have to watch it again, and that’s not happening any time soon). So, that leaves us with Melancholia.

Melancholia is centered around Justine (Kirsten Dunst), who as the movie opens, is getting married. Over the course of her wedding she is insulted by her parents, harassed by her boss and chastised by her sister for not being happy enough. The wedding culminates with her cheating on her new husband and him leaving her.

She's just sad remembering the dance scene in Spider-Man 3.

She’s just sad remembering the dance scene in Spider-Man 3.

The film picks up months later when she comes to stay with her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and her husband (Kiefer Sutherland), while in a deep depression. Claire tries to care for Justine as her husband follows the arrival of Melancholia, a new planet that was discovered on the far side of the sun and is due to pass close by Earth. But Claire believes that it won’t just pass by Earth, but will in fact actually collide and kill them all.

Melancholia, as the name implies, is a movie about depression. Von Trier conceived it while in treatment for depression (to be fair, I was depressed after watching Antichrist and he made it) and Justine’s depression is a major plot point. It’s even named after one of the earliest terms for depression.

But rather than diving into the usual story of depression (the long road of recovery), Melancholia is focused more on how a depressed person can often be better under pressure than non-depressed people. I can’t say exactly how without spoiling, but I will say the fact that Kiefer Sutherland is still best known for 24 does make the third act mildly meta.

On that note, while Sutherland is certainly capable in his role and Gainsbourg is good enough to remind us all why she’s become a favorite of von Trier (and in case you’re wondering, no I haven’t seen Nymphomaniac yet), the real star is Kirsten Dunst. She has to give the hardest performance of her career, consisting of her quietly falling apart in the first act and slowly building herself back to something resembling human after. That’s hard to do for any actress, and Dunst is good enough in the role that almost everyone was pissed when she didn’t get an Oscar nomination.

"Why are we standing out here like this?" "Why? Aren't you having fun?"

“Why are we standing out here like this?”
“Why? Aren’t you having fun?”

If Dunst’s performance which holds up the movie, von Trier’s direction and script are the mortar. His direction is one of the more fascinating aspects, beginning with a gorgeous (and surreal) cold opening and going from there. The lighting and camera work are beautiful, especially in the second and third act, when the story gets darker but the lighting gets brighter.

The script flits back and forth between genres, beginning surreal, then going to more conventional, if extremely dark, drama and finally winding up as a reflection on the nature of depression. It does admittedly have some extremely weak science, but that’s not anywhere near the point of the film, and it’s so unimportant that I’m basically just bringing it up to cut off any discussion about it. Don’t tell me that it’s not how planetary bodies work, I’m more interested in the metaphor than the science in this case.

Seriously, when it looks this good, who cares about whether it's scientifically accurate?

Seriously, when it looks this good, who cares about whether it’s scientifically accurate?

Melancholia got kind of shut out of the mainstream award season after von Trier made some…shall we say tasteless jokes at the Cannes Film Festival, so I don’t know how many people actually heard about (I myself didn’t get to see it until it was too late to put it on my best of 2011 list). But now that you’ve heard about it, I can tell you that it’s on both DVD and Blu-Ray and is even (at time of writing) available to stream on Netflix. So I guess the next step for you, the reader, would be to track it down and watch it. Make sure you’ve got a comedy ready to watch after, it’s not exactly a cheerful movie.

Elessar is a 25 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he’s decided that Kiefer Sutherland’s character is Jack Bauer after settling down and changing his name.

Pros:

– fantastic performance from Kirsten Dunst

– beautiful cinematography and directing

– great screenplay

Cons:

– weird structure. Not bad just….weird

– very, very, very depressing to watch

Rating: 4.5/5

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Elessar

Elessar is a 25 year old Alaskan born cinephile with an obsession with Nicolas Cage and a god complex. His favorite movie is Blade Runner and his least favorite is The Condemned...which probably says more about him than he wants it to.

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Elessar

Elessar is a 25 year old Alaskan born cinephile with an obsession with Nicolas Cage and a god complex. His favorite movie is Blade Runner and his least favorite is The Condemned...which probably says more about him than he wants it to.

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