Thursday, March 21, 2013

Melancholia Review, or "Bored? Try Melancholia... Well, maybe drink some caffeine first."

Say what you will about Lars von Trier... Go ahead. Say what you will. I have no but's to offer, no retort or clever, witty response in his defense. Or against him, if your words were those of kindness and support. I'm generally not known for witty retorts anyway, but I've got nothing going one way or the other when it comes to Von Trier.

It wouldn't matter if I did. From his Dogme 95 roots to today, von Trier has always done things his way. And you know what? We need filmmakers like him. Whether or not you like his films, his avant garde style, his own brand of story telling are things that inject refreshing new life into the art form that is moving pictures. I'm not talking about the business side, of course, but with the rise of digital, who really gives a crap about the business side anymore? Seriously. We can all shoot movies now, and we all should. And whether you are a student of film by virtue of the college you attend or because of a philosophical love of the medium, Lars von Trier is one of those directors to pay attention to, no matter how harsh his films can sometimes be.

I like to think about the history of a filmmaker when viewing one of their films. I like to know their story, though I try not to let it color my ratings of their individual films. That said, I was expecting that to be a little more difficult with Melancholia than it was with Antichrist. But you know what? It wasn't. Somehow, I emerged from this one with a very objective view of it, and I think it might be my favorite of his films. Further than that, more than just a relativistic sense of favoritism, I actually like this film.

The premise seems simple at first, especially if you were to just read one of the plethora of summaries for the film online; Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg play sisters who have maybe not the coziest of relationships, while a mysterious planet is on a collision course with Earth.

Of course, one might jump out and say, "Listen, if a planet were really on a collision course with Earth, than our problems would have started far before it's about to hit," or some other scientific blah blah's that don't really need to be applied here. I get it. Gravity and all that would start coming into play. Please, for the love of all that is good and decent, shut up and just watch this movie.

Because the movie isn't really about a planet about to collide with us, anymore than Eraserhead is about a tentacle baby. Yes, many hate that nasty word, symbolism, but that's what's going on here, and if you don't like it, that's fine, but symbolism is not a sign of weakness in a story. It's a different paint for the film canvas and, when done right, I enjoy it.

Now, if you found the film boring, I'm not going to say that you're wrong. But I'm not wrong for finding it engaging and intelligent. Listen, you don't have to like it. That's fine. Yes, it's actually pretty simplistic for a story about symbolism. But that's another strong point. It's so easy to sort of find your own path in this movie, and I enjoy that.

In fact, my own interpretation actually takes into account why the gravity from the other planet isn't affecting anyone in the movie.

Let's start off with the fact that Kirsten Dunst is one unhappy person in this film. It opens on an amazing slow motion sequence, showing characters in various states of distress or surreal situations. But once the movie proper starts, we open on a delightful scene in which Dunst, dressed in full wedding attire, is with her groom (Alexander Skarsgard) as they sit in their limo, the driver struggling to get up a particularly windy path. This scene, which is chock full of delightfully innocent and sweet subtleties, particularly from Dunst.

Once we get past this though, we find ourselves in a wedding reception, where Dunst is repeatedly falling into depressions and runs off several times. The first half of the film deals with this, and Dunst is consistently reminded during part one to be happy. That's what she wants.

Part two centers on Gainsbourg's character, but it's her having to deal with Dunst and the constant unpredictability. Therein lies the real point of the film. The obvious bipolar disorder that Dunst is suffering from runs side by side with the oncoming planet. Everyone tells Dunst that she should be happy, or enjoy herself, or try to set plans for her that she can't live to because she can never really find happiness. They don't understand, forgive me, the gravity of her situation and, likewise, it isn't until the final moments of the film that the effects of the planet Melancholia are felt.

I liked that notion a lot, and it's really stuck with me. Plus, the planet is called Melancholia. Come on!

No, like so many films I review, this film isn't for everyone. But I liked it quite a bit. The dialogue was great, the performances were great, and I dug the way the film was shot. I would be in the wrong to not mention that Stellan Skarsgard, Kiefer Sutherland, and John Hurt give some great performances in addition to the two leading ladies.

There's not a lot to complain about, unless you just don't like this style of film. And that's fine. But it's these kind of films that are almost immune to the sort usual judgments we apply to films. Because it's so far out there and doing its own thing, you have to find new rules for this sort of story.

But that's part of the fun. And if you're feeling a little adventurous and want to give a different kind of movie a try, you could do a lot worse than Melancholia. *cough7lbscough*


Brit W.

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