Movie Review: MELANCHOLIA
Whether it’s claiming he is the best director in the world or announcing his sympathies towards Nazis before a room full of journalists, Lars Von Trier is undoubtedly one of cinema’s most controversial provocateurs.When attacked for his anti-American rhetoric in ‘Dancer In The Dark’, for example, he decided to make an entire trilogy of films centered on the theme. Similarly, despite the fact that the Danish film-maker was accused on sadistically torturing his female protagonists following the likes of ‘Dogville’ and ‘Breaking The Waves’, he unwaveringly made ‘Antichrist’, a film that shows its lead star Charlotte Gainsbourg cut off her own clitoris following the death of her son.It comes a surprise, therefore, that instead of courting controversy Von Trier’s latest release, ‘Melancholia’, actually offers very little to talk about.
The film opens up with the newly discovered planet Melancholia, which has been hiding behind the sun for most of our existence, crashing into the Earth and destroying it. We then flash back to the days prior to the apocalypse in which Justine and Michael, played by Spider-Man’s Kirsten Dunst and True Blood’s Alexander Skarsgard, celebrate their wedding. However, the marriage threatens to quickly fall apart as a turbulent wedding party throws Justine into a state of depression.
Though spectacularly filmed by Manuel Alberto Claro and featuring staggering performances by the entire cast which also include the aforementioned Gainsbourg and Kiefer Sutherland, nothing can rescue ‘Melancholia’ from being utterly, well, melancholic. Its opening and closing moments are undoubtedly stunning, but what happens in between is almost entirely void of any drama, impact or conflict. We witness these characters quarrel and mope, but without any purpose their issues become very dull very fast.
Worst of all, however, is that Von Trier seemingly has no point to make with Melancholia. In contrast to his masterpiece ‘Dogville’, a film as rich in meaning as any you will find in cinematic history, his latest release is one that refuses to inspire debate or provoke thought. We await the inevitable impending doom of the world’s end and observe Justine struggle through the depths of her depression, but why? What significance is the depression? What purpose does the apocalypse have in this story?
One would argue that perhaps its lack of purpose is, in fact, the purpose of Lars Von Trier’s release and that ‘Melancholia’ is actually a meditative study of how everyone and everything everywhere will die and life ultimately means nothing. However, should this be the case, the film is still a disaster. Not only because at a grueling 130 minutes in length its meaninglessness becomes unbearably dull, but also because Von Trier offers no solace from that misery.
Similar philosophical ideas were explored in HBO’s television series ‘Six Feet Under’ – albeit very differently – and yet Alan Ball and his team of writers were able to balance out the bluntly honest hypothesis that nothing has any meaning with enough humor, romance and beauty to equally indicate the splendor of living while it lasts. Lars Von Trier, however, unsurprisingly for a man who suffers manic depression, solely focuses on the doom, gloom and sadness.
What results is a miserable cinematic experience. Like Charlotte Gainsbourg’s character Claire, who at great personal expense puts herself through the harrowing challenge of looking after her depressed sister Justine, the audience is burdened to endure Lars Von Trier’s frustratingly cynical and misguidedly apathetic musings on how, for lack of a better phrase, everything sucks.
Understand that bleak subject matter or upsetting films, whether it’s ‘Blue Valentine’ or ‘Another Year’, are things that I have no problem with. However, Von Trier seems to forget that in order to create a justifiably depressing movie, there must be just as much light as there is darkness. For there to be heartbreak, for example, there must first be convincing scenes of love. However, with ‘Melancholia’, its characters are so glum that they warrant impatience far more than sympathy.
Thank goodness that Kirsten Dunst shines so brightly in her role as Justine otherwise ‘Melancholia’ would certainly have been an unwatchable mess. It’s a performance that one would never have expected from her and demands that she gets bigger and better projects than she has previously encountered.
No one doubts Lars Von Trier’s ability to make incredible cinema – with beautifully haunting imagery and his trademark Dogme stamp imprinted throughout his is a delight to behold – however with Melancholia he’s disappointingly off-form. It’s just about held together by its performances, but wallows in its morose atmosphere too much and lacks any meaning for too long for it to be remotely engaging.