As we all know, the world is scheduled to end in two days, right after the winter solstice. There have been many apocalyptic predictions made in my lifetime, as there have been throughout history. And every time, Doomsday comes and goes with nobody being raptured -- the husband and I are still stuck paying off our mortgage. And humanity keeps on goin'.
Nevertheless, I didn't want this pending event to go ignored. So my daughter and I watched Melancholia, Lars von Trier's apocalyptic film, to mark the occasion.
Warning ... this post will contain spoilers.
I will admit up front, I have no idea how to review or rate this film. I was predisposed to dislike von Trier's work. My daughter/co-blogger, who is far more intrepid about art house films than I, did manage to persuade me to watch Breaking the Waves. But that was just because it showcases Emily Watson's debut film performance, and she is amazing.
However, I have been curious about Melancholia, and this is undoubtedly much less dark and disturbing that some of this director's films. So I wanted to give it a go.
Before the opening credits, we found ourselves watching some strange apocalyptic images intermingled with glimpses of scenes we'd see later in the film. The dialogue between Sarah and me was something like this.
"Whoa, what is that? Birds? Yup. Birds are falling from the sky."
"This is an artsy film. You know how I can tell it's an artsy film? I have no idea what's happening."
"I don't know what the hell is going on."
"What the fuck are we watching?"
The last two lines would be repeated intermittently throughout the film, along with other remarks. The word "pretentious" may have slipped out a couple of times. At one point I yelled something along the lines of "Lars von Trier has some kind of serious issue with women. I don't know what it is. But. Damn."
A tagline for this film is "A beautiful movie about the end of the world." It was as advertised. Visually, this film is gorgeous, with fantastic performances from the entire cast. There were many things I appreciated about this movie. Nevertheless, I was left with the impression that this is a film that is less than the sum of its parts.
Let's cut to the chase ...
The movie itself was divided into two parts. In the first half, seen from the perspective of Justine, opens at a wedding reception. Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Michael (Alexander Skarsgård) have just been wed. At first we see an image of what appears to be a happy couple. However this quickly unravels, and Justine, despite being successful in business, is revealed as mercurial, fragile, and suffering from crippling depression.
As we get hints of a coming astronomical disaster, family members try to coax and bully Justine out of her misery and erratic behavior. Her kind but somewhat clueless husband tries to give her hope for the future. But it's all to no avail, and the marriage ends the same night it begins. In one particularly disturbing scene, Justine runs out on Michael as he's trying to make love to her on their wedding night. Several minutes later she jumps a young business associate she just met. We view the scene from a distance, but she appears to be raping him. What. The. Fuck?
That was the point when I started yelling about von Trier's alleged lady issues. But I'll say no more about that.
I do want to pause for a moment, at this point, to register one of my major complaints about this film -- don't judge me. Alexander Skarsgård. There was a beautiful opportunity here for a nude shot. And given the fact that Kirsten Dunst appears later in all her naked glory, it would not have been out of line. Skarsgård was already almost stripped down to his skivvies, for the abortive wedding night scene. Considering how sad and grim this story is, it wouldn't have hurt to give me something to smile about! That's all I'm sayin'.
The second half of the film tells the rest of the story, seen through the eyes of Justine's sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg). Claire struggles to care for Justine, whose depression has virtually shut her down. In several raw, agonizing scenes, she tries to bathe and feed her sister who struggles to swallow a bite of food and sobs "it tastes like ashes."
Meanwhile, the planet Melancholia, which has slipped out of its usual orbit, is heading toward earth. Despite reassurances that it will pass our planet without incident, Claire -- who is the mother of a young son -- struggles with mounting anxiety. Together the two sisters, who clearly have a close but very damaged relationship, are left to comfort the child and face the impending apocalypse.
As a whole, this movie didn't work for me. It might benefit from a second viewing. Despite outstanding performances, I found it difficult to connect with the characters. I wanted to understand their motivations and behavior but was left navigating a lot of complex, dysfunctional relationships in the dark without guidance. Some events seemed disconnected from the story and pointless.
Perhaps this was meant to reflect how the world looks through the eyes of a confused, depressed young woman? Maybe, but it made it difficult for me to connect with the movie. Furthermore the style of the film, reflected in the cinematography, imagery, and music, was so artistic it was actually distracting. It distanced me from the story and characters. In general, I think a great film should absorb you into its world -- connecting you to the story and characters -- rather than making you consciously aware of the film maker's artistic sleight of hand at every turn.
On the other hand, there were facets of the film I appreciated, or even loved:
- The gorgeous cinematography and imagery -- this seems to contradict one of my criticisms of the movie. But I can't deny it was really gorgeous -- something to be savored.
- The acting, particularly by Charlotte Gainsbourg and Kirsten Dunst. I thought they knocked it out of the ballpark.
- There are various images meant to reflect famous works of art. For example, the opening sequence includes an image of Justine floating the water which Sarah identified as looking like "Death of Ophelia," a painting that later appears in the film. Although the self-consciously artistic style of the movie was one of my complaints, I kind of liked this. I don't know why it was there. (So von Trier digs Great Art. Cool.) But it appealed to me.
- The portrayal of depression in the movie. I have been through major depression, an experience that, in its full-fledged form, is something movies rarely get right. Justine's pain, and she finds herself unable to handle routine challenges like taking a cab, bathing, or eating, seems raw and honest. I have heard Lars von Trier has both major depression and severe alcoholism. So maybe this is the point where things truly get real.
- The complicated relationship between Justine and Claire. Throughout the movie we see Justine struggle to take charge of and care for her severely depressed sister. Yet as the apocalypse looms, Justine's despair gives her a sense of detachment, which actually becomes a source of strength. As Claire's anxiety ratchets up, nearly incapacitating her, Justine offers comfort to Claire's child and decides how they'll spend their last moments on earth. I thought that twist was magnificent.
- The apocalypse. Strange weather. Bugs and worms burrowing their way out of the ground. Very cool.
Sorry to hear this didn't work for you, I absoulety loved this film and thought it was one of the best from last year. Such a great exploration of depression (Von trier himself suffered from it just before making this). I've always enjoyed Von Trier's films but I can totally see why some don'talent to him. My favourite of his is Dogville but this ranks as one of his best for me also.ReplyDelete
Yes, I mentioned the phenomenal exploration of depression, too, and the fact that von Trier knew of what he spoke when he explored that issue. :-) It was one of the things I appreciated most about this film, even though I didn't love it overall.Delete
Thanks for reading and commenting, and I'm glad you shared your opinion on this film and director. I may rewatch Melancholia someday. I may even give Dogville a go.
By the way, Sarah had mentioned that von Trier had been suffering from depression when he made this. And wasn't it at the premiere of this movie (hence soon after it was made) that he had his bizarre meltdown at Cannes while in alcohol withdrawal? Very sad.Delete
I hated this film, but like you, I hate everything Lars von Trier does. I watched this on VOD, so I was lucky enough to fast forward through that atrocious opening sequence that went on for FAR too long. The only credit I can give it where Kirsten and Charlotte's performances. (even though they were sisters with two different accents, what's up with that?)ReplyDelete
I had to laugh about that Skarsgard comment, the LEAST Von Trier could've done was show him nude. I mean, look at that man. He's fucking gorgeous. He was totally wasted in this. Did they even mention what happened to him after the wedding?
Well, I wouldn't say I hate everything von Trier does. I've only seen two of his films. And I appreciated both of them, especially Breaking the Waves, even if I didn't love them. I just said I went into this predisposed not to like his work, mostly based on what I'd heard. :-)Delete
Glad we both enjoyed the two lead performances. The fact that they were sisters with different accents, and this was never explained, bothered me too.
Glad you related to the Skarsgard comment. I know, right? It was an absolute criminal waste of a beautiful opportunity. That's all I'm sayin'.
By the way, I actually liked the opening montage, despite Sarah's and my "WTF" reaction to it. We didn't know, at first, that it was just an opening montage. *LOL*Delete
Oh God, It was just too slow for me! That and the scene where they are trying to get their car out of that awkward spot. That sucked up all of my patience.Delete
That aspect of the film didn't bother me -- I have an affinity for slow movies. I totally understand where you're coming from, though! :-)Delete
Great write up! This is actually the ONLY Von trier movie that I liked and it didn't piss me off and resulted in me wanting this man to be committed. If I recall correctly it even made my top 10 last year.ReplyDelete
I don't think she was raping that dude during her wedding night, I think she just had sex with him to sabotage things as she kept doing because of her mental state.
It's interesting that you thought Von Trier's hatred toward women was evident in this, for me and probably it's one of the reasons the movie worked for me, was that comparing to his other films I didn't feel he let his sick demons out here. There was no rape, no overwhelming humiliation and no pointless scenes that were supposed to show that women are "evil".
Oh and young Skarsgard is one gorgeous man! :)
Thanks, Margaret. I'm glad you liked the write up. :-) And I'm glad you enjoyed the movie.Delete
You made some fair points. I don't think she was raping the dude either. But the way it was shot made it appear that way, and I found the scene somewhat disturbing. O.K., maybe it was unfair to diss the film maker about his lady issues just on the basis of that. :-) I didn't really think he showed a *hatred* of women there, but it did leave me with an odd feeling that made me wonder about his issues. Maybe because I went into the film with unfair biases. I don't know.
Anyhow, one thing you, me and Brittani all agree on. Alexander Skarsgard. Seriously gorgeous!
Oh, he definitely hates women, your feeling on that was absolutely correct. He even got misogyny anti-award in Cannes at one point.Delete
There's a misogyny anti-award at Cannes? I never imagined such a thing existed. Although I do remember hearing something along those lines; I've forgotten what it was exactly. I guess it's a moot point now -- hasn't he since been banned from Cannes for his bizarre Nazi rant?Delete
This is why it's dangerous to know anything about a film maker before seeing his work. It makes it impossible (at least for me, apparently) to view the movies objectively.
Ah, I see. A quick internet search filled me in on the misogyny anti-award for Antichrist. This article seems kind of balanced, not exactly defending von Trier but pointing out mitigating circumstances. :-) --Delete
Ok, so you made me want to see the film. I have not seen it. I appreciate when well-known actors do artsy films, instead of just blockbusters.ReplyDelete
If you watch it, Theresa, I'll be very curious to know what you think. :-)Delete
Great review! This is one of my favorite Von Trier films, if one can have a "favorite" one. :) I love the performances, cinematography, music - basically everything you mentioned. Being absorbed in a film's world isn't essential for me, but it doesn't hurt. ;) That said, I do think it's a great film, and one of last year's best.ReplyDelete
Thanks Josh. I'm glad you liked the post. It sounds like you appreciated the same things I did, but while you loved them, somehow they further distanced me from the film. To be fair, this movie is probably worth a second viewing on my part, and my rating is likely to improve if I give it another go. Though with some many movies on my watchlist that I've never seen it's not a top priority.Delete
I hadn't heard of this one, and even if you didn't like it, I am intrigued enough to want to see it. Granted, it sounds like there would be many a "WTF" moments for me as well, but sometimes those are worth the visual beauty.ReplyDelete
I'm glad you said that. :-) The more I think about it, the more I feel this movie really was worth it for the visual beauty alone.Delete
I'm with you on mostly everything. During the middle of the film, I had a strong urge to write an angry post about artsy films and the "nothing really happens" phenomenon some movies sport, but the end kind of convinced me. It definitely has some strong points, but it didn't wow me either.ReplyDelete
Thank you for the comment, Diana. :-) It's good to hear from somebody who, like me, is in the middle ground in terms of reactions to this film.Delete
The cartoon at the top is pretty much how I explained to my son what was going on with the Mayans "They just ran out of room." : )ReplyDelete
I've heard a lot about this film and how awesome it is but I've not seen it yet. I know for a fact my husband won't watch it and I tend not to watch movies on my own for some reason. Some day though … it seems like it has a lot to consider.