Saturday, 15 October 2011

“So, it won’t hit us?”

Melancholia: directed and written by Lars Von Trier

Melancholia is not subtly named. It’s a decisive pun on the part of Von Trier. A meteor is hurtling towards the earth with the curious name of Melancholia, whilst two sisters both suffer from a severe sort of depression – melancholia – in two separate, but not disparate halves. With the unsubtle precision in its title you’d anticipate that the juxtaposition of the film’s apocalyptical tendencies with its characters more human interests would be more calculated. Instead, Von Trier takes a number of steps back as a director and crafts the film with little ostensible directorial intrusion, and with little focus on actual plot. Instead, we’re met with almost impressionistic meanderings marked by overwhelming symbolism.
It seems to be a somewhat curious choice that Von Trier chooses to spend half off the narrative a wedding reception engulfed in dissonance especially when the pragmatic “end of world” spectacle of the final third are brought into context. Then, when I consider his almost self-servingly bleak outlook on life I suppose not. A wedding is one of those events which often exist as a sort of social crucible allowing for everyone to immerse themselves in one of those benchmark moments in life as they submerge themselves in the joie de vivre. Yet, watching Dunst’s Justine amble through the affair unmoved by it all only serves to underscore, even before we actually know what is being underscored, the triviality of the human experience – for Von Trier at least. It’s no wonder that, as Justine meanders through the event she significantly prevaricates the truth telling others, so often, how happy she is.
There’s a striking insularity which accompanies Von Trier’s ruminations on the end of the world. It’s deliberate on his part, I'm sure and that sort of bleak outlook on life does precipitate something like a sort of disconnect between the audience and the subjects it observes. It is probably just as significant that we are introduced to the film through Justine and not Claire. Dunst’s Justine becomes a problematic character almost immediately. There’s a perverse streak of viciousness which emanates from her, often at odds with the more sedate aspects of her personality. It’s the very reason that as we observe this woman we’re confused as to what her inclinations. The first half is so lacking in any momentous propinquity that we’re never sure which aspect of the masquerade we’re meant to focus on. I’ve commented before that as laudable the concept of true realism in art is, realism just for realism sake is not appreciative on my part. The discord rooting the wedding party retains a distinct air of practicality and the editing is so delicate even as we never quite understand the people we observe it is as if we know them – as much as one can know people, which is never enough.
It’s something of a jarring shift when we move to the second half. It’s nowhere near as exquisite to behold as the first half, and Gainsbourg pathetic Claire is a bit awkward to behold in her pitiable way the same that Justine was awkward to watch with her abrasiveness. There is a potent organic nature as the meteor Melancholia enters the narrative and even with the obvious foreboding indications it is a testimony to Lars that it never feels overdone. Even as the end draws near he maintains the narrowness of the tale keeping our perspectives eclipsed which raises the inadvertent question in the mind whether the melancholia of these two sisters could, in any way, be responsible for this end of the world. It’s even possible to consider that, perhaps, that final shot is even inauthentic. That shot exists as a fine paradigm to view the entire film through. It’s difficult to look away from it, even as it appears jarring and awkward and it’s the same way with the film Melancholia. It’s a fearsome thing to behold and often comes off on the wrong side of gauche. But, it’s arresting throughout. It never hits is on the emotionally personal level you’d expect it to, and yet it hits us in a powerful way nonetheless. It’s difficult to forget its machinations.


B+

3 comments:

Stevee Taylor said...

I really did quite like this movie. It was funny, because as soon as I left the movie, I was willing to give it 5/5. Then, the next day, I lowered that rating to 3.5/5. Now it's a solid 4/5...I probably need to see it again.

That ending was just epic.

Colin Biggs said...

The sheer psychics of this film make me wonder why I would bother. That said you almost convince me to watch it.

Runs Like A Gay said...

Great review that highlights where this movie lurches from it's peaks (the wedding party is amazingly painful) to its unfortunate troughs.

Great use if Wagner too. Music to destroy humanity to.