By Clint Morris
Stranger than a couple of my ex-girlfriends, and equally as erratic, ”Melancholia” is an apocalyptic end of the world yarn dressed in a Cuckoo’s Nest jersey. Film buffs will savor it, all others – likely the same people lining up for that shitty looking Sandler flick this weekend – may wish they’d sprinkled some bread crumbs in the aisle so they could find their way to the exit.
A fan of extraordinarily different work that gets you thinking and stimulates the senses (Sure, “Jack & Jill” may have the same effect, but I doubt it), I found ”Melancholia” to be an oddly engaging tale that pushed all the right buttons with a control panel of concealed knobs. Seemingly just clicking away and pushing away at our psyches and the fears we thrive on, director Lars von Trier has crafted an obtuse film experience that paints the perfect picture of depression while pushing into the background the normally heavyweight planet hurtling towards earth storyline. It’s the people, and their plight to live and carry on contently in the moment, that takes precedence here. Nothing matters but the now and trying to get through it. And you know, that’s not a bad way to look at things. Earth might be doomed, but we can sure as shit try and live as comfortably and as happily as we can until that happens.
Split into two parts, the first half of the film fixes on a wedding – not before quickly letting us know that there’s some kind of planet slowly, very slowly heading towards Earth (not that anyone’s much alarmed by it; think Haley’s Comet in ’86). Young, pretty lass Justine (Kirsten Dunst) is about to rock the bride boat to Michael (Alexander Skarsgaard, Eric from “True Blood”). They seem like a good fit, but it’s the attendees – namely her parents – that cause Justine to slowly buckle under the pressure. As the night progresses and she slowly becomes undone (her blouse too at one stage, ca-ching!), it becomes clearer that our heroine isn’t fit for marriage, let alone being the central attraction at such an event like a wedding.
The second half of the film continues to study Justine’s battle with hopelessness as she sinks slower and slower into her despair. Now living back with her sister (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and her husband (a miscast but solid Kiefer Sutherland), Justine’s inability to cope with life is an even larger problem than the one that features a planet destroying earth in a fucking day or two.
Yup, Von trier’s back with another unHollywood offering – that also features the likes of Stellan Skarsgard, Alexander’s Pop; John Hurt and Udo Kier – that’s going to evoke debate more than it will spur ticket sales.
It doesn’t matter what message you take from the movie – be it that life is too short to dwell on minor dramas or that, despite the inevitably that we will share a cloud with Bob Hope one day, you can’t give up – “Melancholia” is a rewarding film. Much like Malick’s “Tree of Life”, it’s more of a visually opulent experience than your standard narrative piece, but patience pays off.
Shit, look, “Melancholia” is obviously going to confuse some and is open to much interpretation but despite the disparate canvas, it’s art anyone would be proud to hang off to show.