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Lars von Trier, 2011

Some spoilers ahead!

Oh, Lars. As usual, I get through one of his films, and end up feeling extremely ambivalent about it. Clearly, the guy is talented and has a gift for cinematic vision. What I want to know is just exactly why this guy seems to hate everyone and everything so much.

This time around the subject isn't dancing in the dark or a gaggle of idiots. No, this time, we go straight for the apocalypse; a ridiculously popular and overused theme these days. Overused or no, I happen to be a fan of the premise, so after swearing off this director years ago, I decided to eat my hat, and watch Melancholia.

First off, this is in my opinion von Trier's visual masterpiece; he absolutely nails it in this regard. I watched the opening lietmotif about 20 times. It's brilliant. When studying art from hundreds of years ago, one notices the painters didn't attempt to emulate a photograph, which was hundreds of years away from being invented, they attempted to imitate life in motion. von Trier approaches this from the other side of the tracks - he takes film, and crushes it down to an almost motionless painting, and the results are breathtaking. He is clearly referencing the period in art that I mentioned above, as he recreates a famous painting or two in the opening prelude, and the entire film seems to be inspired by an etching from hundreds of years ago.

The rest of the film is shot wonderfully, as well. I really enjoyed watching an apocalypse story that didn't revolve around destructo-beams shattering monuments and landmarks while some schmuck in a station wagon tries to get his family to higher ground. In fact, the viewer isn't even sure the impending apocalypse is real until the third act, and even then, I am still not so sure... No news casts in the background, no alien ships full of lizard people descending on Washington, no eleventh-hour feats of daring do in space suits, just in time to save everyone and everything...it really is a unique film in the genre, and as I said earlier, it looks fantastic.

Alas...oh...alas...this is a Lars von Trier film, so all the true horror and catastrophe stem directly from the people in the film. I can state with certainly that Melancholia contains some of the worst people I have ever run across on film, the whole lot of them. Just when you think you find a decent human being in the proceedings, Lars pulls the rug out from under you and you get to watch these people gouge and claw at one another in the most subtle, horrible ways.

Yes Lars, we get it, the genius soul is the despondent soul, or so the etching would infer...but man, who wouldn't be a little down with a family like this? The main character herself is mewling quim, her mother a frigid crone, and her sister and her husband are the worst of the worst in smarmy elitists. I liked her father for a few minutes, but he turned out to be just as bad, if in a passive aggressive way.

They aren't all bad. Oh wait, yes they are, but sometimes it's fun to watch them be terrible to one another. There is a great scene during the wedding toast that had me crawling the walls, wanting to jump through the screen and execute a spinning wheel kick to various characters foreheads. They dice each other up something fierce, which is of course what you do on the alleged happiest day of your life, yes? If you are a nihilist, I mean.

Ah, happiness. This film deals with the concept of happiness, our endless chase to claim it, and the not-so-pleasing results we find in our search, especially when surrounded by the worst collection of people ever assembled. After wedding reception like this, I know I would be hoping for a giant planet to just smash right into Earth and destroy everything and everyone we have ever known, never to be seen again.

I must mention Kirsten Dunst's performance, because it is certainly her best. While some of actor's take their performance into parody, Dunst underplays her character in such a way that her inevitable slide into clinical depression is completely believable, and in some ways heart wrenching. Some might go after her a bit for whining when she clearly has everything, but I think that is the main point of the film, and clearly one of the themes of the etching that inspired the film: Happiness can elude us at the strangest times, and especially when it seems like we really, really should be happy - everything lines up, we have what we need and people who love us in our lives...but we just aren't happy. Dunst really nails it, even if I didn't really end up liking her character, in the end. This opinion stems from the fact that she played her so well, I think.

The philosophy of exactly why this is has been pondered for hundreds of years, since the time we started worrying about such things in relation to society, anyway. The winged genius on the boat in the etching seems to have everything he needs, and yet, his troubled brow is clear... Justine has everything she could ever want, except happiness. There is a ton of symbolism in this film, and the film makes little sense otherwise (and just don't pay any attention to the ridiculous science in the film) This fact bears down on her inexorably, like a gas giant hurtling through space on a collision course with her soul. There will be no escape. There will be no respite. This is a Lars von Trier film, after all.


As an aside - my girlfriend stood up and stormed out of the room about half way through this film, simply because she was physically angry at many of the characters for being so horrible! She skipped the last half of the film, yelling comments from across the house. Lars brings the fun, for real.