Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Melancholia: Grade A



Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgård, Alexander Skarsgård, Kiefer Sutherland, Charlotte Rampling; Writer-Director Lars von Trier.

This film is perfection of the art in every respect except one: editing. Its 2 hour, 15 minute runtime is not justified by the material. Not that I was ever bored, because the visuals took a grip on my eyeballs from the opening scenes and never let go. But the first half, focused on an elaborate wedding, verged on repetitive and tedious.

In the first half, Justine (Dunst) marries Michael (A. Skarsgard) in her sister’s home, so luxurious it would make royalty blush. Throughout this long segment, Justine is withdrawn and melancholy and finds no happiness in the wedding. But she is there, after all, in the appropriate costume, so she is conflicted. She arrives 2 hours late, then during the festivities, disappears to take walks on the grounds, retires to take a nap, and even takes a bath. She finds no pleasure in the social rituals of dancing, drinking, cutting the cake, exchanging the vows. Is it because she is clinically depressed? Maybe, but it is more like she just doesn’t see the point of the ridiculous ceremony. Her mother (Rampling) is explicit about contempt for all aspects of marriage, but Justine seems ambivalent. She can’t decide if she wants to be a member of the social community, with all its stupid, contrived rituals, or whether she is an existential monad, alone in the world, finding her own meaning. Her vacillation goes on far too long. I wanted to scream at von Trier, “Okay, we get it!” But I think he was trying to make the viewer feel Justine’s conflict, the endless, intellectually empty tedium of well-worn social ritual, and attraction to fabulous costumes, bright lights, fine food, and excellent music. I felt it, though I didn’t need such a long dramatization.

In Part 2 the story focuses on Clair, Justine’s sister, married to Jack (Sutherland). Justine stays on with her sister’s family after the wedding because she alienated her new husband on the wedding night and he left in confusion. Claire is worried about a new planet, called Melancholia (get it?) hurtling toward Earth, threatening total destruction. Jack assures her that all the scientists predict it will miss, and that “Melacholia will pass us by.” In other words, Justine’s rejection of the social rituals we live by will not hurt us, and death itself will pass us by, because we are together. Justine tells Claire however, that we will all die because the Earth is evil. Her melancholic diffidence now seems like stoic acceptance of humanity’s inevitable fate.

The themes in the film are thus the most fundamental existential questions facing us, the inevitability of death, the meaning of society, the vagaries of fate, and the survival of the planet, making the movie intellectually and emotionally engaging, much more than mere eye candy. Acting by Dunst is phenomenal, and von Trier takes advantage of her beauty in some stunning, if gratuitous, shots. Acting is also very strong from the other main characters, especially Rampling. Sets, costumes: superb. CGI: perfect. Directing: flawless. It’s a masterpiece.

No comments:

Post a Comment