There are some movies that want to move you. There are some movies that want to scare you. There are some movies that want to make you rethink every decision you made in your life up to that point. There are some movies that want to stun you with how ethereal and beautiful they are. There are some movies that want to present you with scenarios that make you realize how precious (and or futile) life is. There are some movies that evoke the idea of art more than film. There are so movies that disguise themselves as big and bold, when really they are intimate works of art most would walk right by and ignore. Melancholia is all of the above. While clearly a very polarizing movie, it is a movie that is unlike in kind and character to any other film out there, and one every fan of film needs to see so they can cast their own judgement for themselves. I adore Melancholia, and you may not. But I still think you need to see it, despite that disclaimer.
So before I actually mention anything to you about the story or performances in Melancholia, I think it best to talk about the elephant in the room. That elephant is named Lars Von Trier.
A very innocuous man until you see the word f*ck tattooed across his knuckles. For real.
I know some people detest Lars Von Trier for various reasons. Some think he makes shocking films just to make shocking films, but I disagree with that. In many ways, Melancholia is not shocking at all. It is just a bit taboo. Does he make taboo films? Hell yes he does. He approaches subjects most of us would be far happier never having to imagine. From the wife who screws strangers upon the request of her paraplegic husband (Breaking the Waves) to a movie about a couple who lose a baby and then spiral into a dark world of sex, masochism, and guilt (Antichrist), Lars Von Trier does not make movies the world wants. But once you have sat through a few of them, you realize, in may ways he makes the movies the world needs. Granted, doing dumb shit like comparing yourself to Hitler is never a smart move. But few can deny that Von Trier knows how to make an impact and turn some heads. You don’t have to like the man to admit he is a damn good artist. You may not appreciate Bosch’s paintings of Hell, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t breathtaking art. That just means it is breathtaking art you don’t like. That is what is great about art (and movies as art). They are subjective. You don’t have to like them, but that doesn’t make them any less art by definition.
Melancholia is beautiful and visually mesmerizing in a way that is very hard to capture with words.
Melancholia, no matter what you think to the opposite, is a film about a troubled relationship between two sisters. A film about the fiber and strings and nerves keeping a family together slowly splitting apart. It also just so happens to be about the end of the world. This is the third week in a row I have recommended a movie to you that seems to center around some cataclysmic event on Earth killing a great many of us off. This is not intentional, which actually scares me a little. Do I know something I don’t know? Is the world going to end soon? I don’t know, that is the irony of all this. I just know after three weeks of talking about, I am left to wonder why it is so prevalent in my subconscious right now. Well, that is not the point of this, so I digress. Also, please note, there will be no trailer this week. I am just getting pissed that week after week in this column, these trailers sometimes spoil the best parts that I specifically go out of my way to avoid ruining. So rather than let the trailer ruin it, If you want to watch the trailer to Melancholia, look it up on your own. But it will ruin much of the film, so do so at your own risk.
See, every shot from this film looks like a piece of art you could frame and hang.
Honestly, there is little to this film if you are expecting cataclysmic scenes of buildings breaking apart and people screaming as the angry Earth swallows them whole. This is not THAT type of end of the world movie. Rather, Melancholia is about a planet hurtling into our solar system that is set to (maybe) collide with Earth. As you can see from the above photo, it is handled more maturely and realistically than most films. They know it is coming, mostly. They can literally see it. Though it is predicted to fly-by and miss Earth, this would not be much of a movie if that were the case. Then it would be just another Armageddon. Blah to that. I don’t recommend drivel like that. And no, this is not a spoiler. This is a Lars Von Trier film. If you expected a happy ending, you are reading the wrong column
The film takes place in two “acts”, but most of it happens during the wedding of Justine (played by Kirtsen Dunst in her other good role outside of The Virgin Suicides) and Michael. But rather than focus solely on the dynamic of Justine and her soon-to-be husband, the film focuses on Justine and her struggling and failing relationship with her sister, Claire. Claire is played by Charlotte Gainsbourg (who Von Trier admits is his muse, as she stars in most of his recent work) and there is just something that Trier can bring out in that woman. She is an absolute powerhouse in this film, as she often is. Many dynamics shift across the course of the film, and if you are easily depressed or saddened by somber films, you may want to skip this one. The final act packs quite a doozy. There is also more to Justine’s husband’s character, but I will not spoil that. I will simply tell you he looks at Melancholia differently than most around him.
“Suddenly, she felt BOTH eyes of Sauron on her, and the hair on the back of her neck stood up.”
Von Trier says he did not set out to make an apocalypse film, but rather, wanted to make a movie about people’s psyches during that time. Not only did he do that, but he did that remarkably well. The one thing that stands out about Melancholia is how staggeringly beautiful it is. Every single shot could be screen capped and turned into a piece of art hanging over a fire place. I am not even joking, the cinematography and art direction is some of the most stunning work I have ever seen on film. Melancholia is art, truly. A Bosch with brighter colors. It may feel slow at times, and it may feel disquieting and uncomfortable at times, but it is one of the most beautiful films I have ever seen, even amid all the chaos and sadness that unfolds. See Melancholia, and realize, sometimes the best art is the painting you walked right by and didn’t even realize was there until someone stopped you and pointed it out.
Life is meaningless and stuff. Von Trier knows this better than anyone.