Armageddon It?

Melancholia is a confusing apocalypse

Writer/director Lars von Trier hates earth and everyone on it. Don’t believe it? See Antichrist.

Maybe that’s why Melancholia, a film that eventually gets around to pondering the end of the world, feels a bit more like a fantasy than a nightmare. As one of his characters ponders the extinction of the planet, she sums it up in von Trier’s patented lyrical nihilistic minimalism, stating simply “No one will miss it.” So there you have it: if you’ve been looking for a gorgeous, ponderous, somewhat self-loathing apocalypse, look no further.

Melancholia begins with a gob-smacking, flawless first few minutes that combines slow-motion, orchestral fanfare and the aforementioned annihilation of earth. The sequence is less like film and more like a painting in motion. Think Kanye West’s video for “Power.” Come to think of it, given the sheer volume of narcissism and ego involved, it may be best not to put von Trier and West in the same paragraph. This opening is a metaphor for the experience of watching the entire film, in that it is somehow simultaneously depressing and anticlimactic and yet inexplicably captivating as all hell.

The story is divided into two chapters, each named after one of the two main characters, both of whom suck at life. First up is Justine (Kirsten Dunst), who is marrying Michael (Alexander Skarsgård), even though she doesn’t seem to like him much, a point she drives home by boffing another wedding guest on a golf course. Her entire segment is a baffling blend of near-comedy and monotonous conversation, with nary a peep about armageddon.

When the film shifts to the second chapter, dedicated to Justine’s sister, Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg), things take a turn for the apocalyptic. It turns out that Justine’s depression is tied to Melancholia, a planet that was “hidden behind the sun,” and is now bearing down on earth. Claire’s tool of a husband, John (Kiefer Sutherland), tries to assure everyone it will all be fine, but we’ve seen the film’s intro, so we know a ‘splosion is a-comin’.

von Trier is a frustrating filmmaker, full of self-important piss and vinegar that bleeds into his work, but that doesn’t mean that his challenging art isn’t worth exploring. For example, the first hour of Melancholia contains a fascinating portrayal of depression by Dunst, and features some interesting nuanced commentary on rituals and the folly of a work-driven life. It’s also kinda boring. The second hour is full of cataclysmic imagery and mournful contemplation about the human experience. It’s also kinda boring.  

Unlike Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life, which was obtuse but invigorating, the whole point of Melancholia is soul-crushing sadness. Two planets smacking together may not sound like a whimper, but it may as well make one. This isn’t to say that the film isn’t worth watching, that it isn’t well acted by Dunst and Gainsbourg or that it isn’t haunting. It is. It’s just that, if you want a meditation on the meaning of life, Malick’s film is better. If you want a chilling apocalyptic tale, Take Shelter is still out there. But if you want the grim, semi-navel-gazing offspring of those two, Melancholia it is!

Grade = B-

posted at 11:32 pm
on Friday, December 02nd, 2011

COMMENTS

(We're testing Disqus commenting (finally!); please let us know if you have trouble.)

comments powered by Disqus

 

« Previous Page


Happy, Little Clouded

Actual human beings made The Tale of Princess Kaguya, and you can tell. A water-colored rebuke of the robots who computer-generate most modern animation, every luscious scene is hand-crafted and...

more »


No Big Bang

In 1965, Stephen Hawking wrote his first ground-breaking thesis and wed Jane Wilde. His paper argued that if a star can collapse inwards to form a singularity, then a singularity can explode back...

more »


Leni Riefen-stalling

On the one hand, any film subtitled “Part 1” is a naked cash grab. On the other hand, shut up and take my money, Hunger Games. Mockingjay Part 1, like the rest of the franchise, is billed as “Young...

more »


Oopsie Genius

I know two things for sure: (1) Birdman aims to relentlessly drive home one singular point, one thoroughly expressed thesis about life and art. (2) It does not succeed. You would think that would...

more »


The Burden of Actual Christianity

Most praise for writer/director Jesse Moss’s documentary, The Overnighters, has rightly been focused on its Steinbeckian nature and explosive revelations about struggling workers in North Dakota....

more »







Advanced Search