25 February 2013

Melancholia (2011)


Was I the only one who saw this film and thought that, not only is the entire debacle a hallucination brought on by the condition after which the film is named, but additionally, the hallucinatory and delusional state had caused Justine (Kirsten Dunst in the first role I have liked her in since she got to make out with Brad Pitt in Interview With The Vampire!) to kill off many members of her own family?? How could everyone else have missed this? Must have been so caught up in the film's visual beauty that they missed the dismal and depressing fact that the film is at base a recounting of a melancholic incident in the life of a bi-polar woman. Even if we put aside the idea of Justine having killed off many of her own family members, as a hallucination, the film holds up pretty well when one considers Justine is the first to see the approaching planet that will end all life on earth.

There is little of plot to recount: its the end of the world as we know it, and no one feels good about anything! The film opens with a couple on their wedding day limousine, unable to navigate the twisty road from ceremony to reception - in a visual metaphor one finds it impossible to miss! Consequently, they leave the limo and proceed on foot to a lavish reception where the family drama unleashed on unsuspecting guests strikes the bride so forcefully that she falls into the depressive phase of her frequent manic to depressive swings. Her response to the stresses of a toxic mother is understandable for a bi-polar sufferer, she is self-destructive. She has sex outside on the golf course, with her dress still on, with some lackey brought to the wedding by her boss. And I suppose this indiscretion is supposed to make clear or acceptable why her family respond to her with such hostility??

For example, as a Lars Von Trier film, the other people's responses are freakishly enacted, but the most bizarre is her new spouse (played with a shocking degree of muted banality by Alexander Skarsgarde, best known as the passionate fire/ice vampire on True Blood). This paragon of determination and commitment, frustrated that Justine will not have sex with him immediately after the reception and passive-aggressively angry that she does not display enough excitement over his purchase of apple orchards to make her happy, packs up his things and Leaves Her!! Yes, while still in wedding attire, he leaves her - so, 'until death do us part' really meant, 'until I get mildly annoyed by your long-battled bout with mental illness.'

His departure, her father's refusal to recognize and attempt to alleviate the stress she feels when she begs him to stay and speak with her, and being fired from her job precipitate an ambiguous amount of time before we meet up with Justine again, and this is why the film's hallucinatory effect feels most keen. Not only is Justine the first to see the planet's appearance in the sky - how meaningful that a wedding day is connected to the end of all life by a giant blue planet! - but the planet's approach follows her descent/depression.

If depression feels as if doom and disaster lie just around every corner and nothing is going to turn out well, then what better way to show that then by having a planet headed straight for the earth. Suddenly, Justine perks up! With the approach of the apocalypse she is revived and alert, whereas when we see her again post wedding, she has to be helped to stand up as her sister attempts to have her take a bath. It is either the most cynical or the most perverse wish-fulfillment that this film celebrates - at least with lovely visuals - the realization of the depressive mindset that the end is nigh.

Thus, as a hallucination it works very well. If the train-wreck wedding took place, then it would make sense that Justine's mind would create a way out of the pain through the destruction of everyone. After the wedding she doesn't stew in her apartment and then show up at her sister's house. In reality, she lapses into an irretrievable depression that appears to her like the end of the world.

Ultimately I found it hard to find the spark in this film that had everyone so excited about it when it came out. If you either mute the film after the first beautiful ten minutes or so, or continue playing music over the muted film, then perhaps I see why people were so pleased. Otherwise, it feels far too dark a vision, too stark an end for either the clinically depressed or bi-polar person. I don't necessarily need redemption and hollywood endings, but I also do not need total annihilation.

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