Lars von Trier’s Melancholia (2011) Review: Death Has Never Looked More Grandiose
The fact that the idea for von Trier’s new film came about during one of his sessions in the treatment of depression is not surprising – a film that deals with depression must first and foremost know about depression.
That Lars von Trier is still in his “top” form, he successfully presented at Cannes at a press conference after the film. He sympathizes with Hitler, jokes a little about Nazism, calls himself a Nazi, denies it and apologizes. Persona non grata, they ruled and banned him from appearing at their festival, where he has presented most of his films so far and won all the most prestigious awards. However, the film remained in competition for the Palme d’Or, from which Terrence Malick’s “Tree of Life” emerged as the winner. The award for the best actress deservedly went to Kirsten Dunst, who invested for this film beyond her capacity. She has stretched her boundaries length and breadth. Comparisons of the film with the already mentioned Malick’s “Tree of Life”, Winterberg’s “The Celebration” (first part of the film), or perhaps even more with the hit from Sundance, “Another Earth”, which I watched just before writing this text, are inevitable, true. They certainly have points of contact and similarities in their theme, but “Melancholia” is a unique and unforgettable film experience, like no other so far.
What is it about? Prelude of Tristan and Isolde. Dead birds fall around Kirsten Dunst, stumbling horses, a bride in chains. Clash of the planets. End of the world. We’re going back. On the huge estate of her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and her husband John (Kiefer Sutherland), young girl Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and her fiancé (Alexander Skarsgård) celebrate their wedding. We have been following Justine in her unrest since the very beginning of the ceremony. She is absent, anxious and destructive, and falls into this state deeper and deeper during the evening. He stares at the star, staggering around his glowing cheeks and teary eyes. Dinner also brings together her divorced parents (Charlotte Rampling and John Hurt), and tensions among family members are rising. The mother is cynical and intolerant, she leaves the celebration; father drinks, boss unbearable in his performance, Claire warns Justine of her behavior. The groom leaves the celebration. In the manner of “Dogma”, the action takes place right here and right now and the first part of the film is reminiscent of the director’s earlier work. Von Trier does not deal with explaining the past between the characters and their interrelationships. Some questions will not be answered here, nor will the director care about them. His focus is the very core of the situation, not its circumstances. The planet Melancholia is approaching Earth, and as John comforts the family that he will just pass by Earth, Justine’s condition is deteriorating. Left without a groom, without a job, she stays with her sister to recover. But he can’t eat, he can’t walk, he can’t wash. He feels that Melancholia will hit the Earth. When it becomes clear that this will happen, the roles then suddenly become reversed – Justine’s condition improves, she is ready for the worst; Claire becomes fragile, disintegrating under pressure.
The director paid special attention to this part of Justina’s development, connecting her condition with the problem that arises outside of her, regardless of her. Her pessimism, depression and anticipation of the worst prepared her for disaster and in those final moments, she is stronger than the hitherto collected and rational Claire and represents the support and voice of reason. The end of the world, I guess, you’ve never seen in an edition like this. No loud news, announcements, television reports, screams, demolition of cities and bridges. Only an individual in the intimate experience of his fear, in anticipation of the end.
Lars Von Trier is undoubtedly one of the greatest visionaries in today’s film industry. His courage and clarity of vision break down barriers between the screen and the viewer, and emotional depths, strong and unadulterated emotions permeate all his works. His actors really seem to live their characters. They become what they act; they are precise, dimensioned, with layers below their surfaces, and strong and masterful performances come as the most natural extension of the director’s vision.
“Melancholia” is a film that puts us face to face on a rational, subconscious, phantasmagoric and spiritual level. I don’t remember ever seeing a film about the apocalypse in such an intimate, universal and pervasive way. Apocalypse of the planet and all people. And although death as a theme and as the fate of the characters is something we are used to in the film (some affect us, some sympathize with us, some not) – it has never been so grandiose, beautiful in its inevitability and dark power. She had never been so close. Here death happens to everyone. It doesn’t happen to any of the characters in the colorful high-budget picture book. A naturalistic and reflective depiction of the end of the world confronts us with our own end. Everything dies, we regret everything, we say goodbye to everything – just as in the inevitability of our own death. A spectacular finale in which it is terribly intertwined with the beautiful, are some of the most powerful shots in the film ever.