Today: March 4, 2024
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Melancholia

About a third of the way into Lars von Trier’s end of the world drama Melancholia you start hoping the world will end and kill all the protagonists. About an hour in, you start praying the world will end and kill all the protagonists. Then, somewhere around the 90 minutes mark, when you realise there’s another 46 minutes left for you to endure, you start praying the world will actually end and kill you…

About a third of the way into Lars von Trier’s end of
the world drama Melancholia you start hoping the world will end and kill all
the protagonists. About an hour in, you start praying the world will end and kill all the protagonists. Then, somewhere
around the 90 minutes mark, when you realise there’s another 46 minutes left
for you to endure, you start praying the world will actually end and kill you

Borrowing
its basic premise from Philip Wylie
& Edwin Balmer’s classic ‘30s pulp novel When
Worlds Collide
(already filmed in 1951 and in the process of being remade
by The Mummy director Stephen
Sommers), Melancholia sucks all the
fun out of the end of the world.
Admittedly, it’s Lars von Trier so it’s doubtful anyone in the audience
is expecting Roland Emmerich or Michael Bay levels of planet trashing but
still…would it have killed you Lars to drop a comedy asteroid on say, Udo Kier, whose sole function as
wedding planner in the movie is to offer the closest thing to boggle-eyed light
relief.

Melancholia
opens with a lengthy, bravura slow-motion collage of
apocalyptic imagery; dead birds rain down around Kirsten Dunst, a horse collapses, Charlotte Gainsbourg struggles across a quicksand golf course with
a child in her arms in the middle of a hail storm, static electricity arcs
skywards from Dunst’s fingers, Dunst in a wedding dress lies floating in a pond
in a self-conscious nod to Millais’ Ophelia, an extra-solar planet looms
menacingly towards the Earth before finally striking it, swallowing it
whole. And it’s all cut to
Wagner’s prelude to Tristan und Isolde,
considered by Proust and Nietzsche (and probably von Trier) to be one of the
greatest pieces of music ever written.
It’s a fantastic opening, in around 10 minutes it distils Melancholia’s themes and plot strands
into a bite-sized chunk that makes the two and a bit hours that follow not only
redundant but a tedious, superfluous waste of your time. Even if you do get to see Kirsten
nekkid.

The rest of the film is divided into two distinct
parts; each named after the pair of sisters played by Dunst and
Gainsbourg. The first half, Justine,
is set during the wedding reception from Hell, like Festen without the child abuse and suicide (What is it with the
Danes that they can’t just enjoy a party?). Justine (Dunst) has just married Michael (Alexander Skarsgard) and, at the
reception held in the up-market holiday resort owned by sister Claire
(Gainsbourg) and her husband John (Kiefer
Sutherland
), after a series of delays, minor mishaps and bad behaviour by
some of the guests (most notably her parents John Hurt and Charlotte
Rampling
), the marriage implodes, Justine’s depression overtaking her,
driving her to destroy her relationship with Michael and insult her boss. All the while a new star glitters in
the sky, watching over events. The
second half, Claire, sees Claire, John, son Leo (Cameron Spurr) and the almost catatonically depressed Justine
(well, Alexander Skarsgard has just slipped though her fingers. You’d be depressed too…) gather at the
deserted resort to watch the flyby of newly discovered extra-solar rogue planet
Melancholia which is due to narrowly miss the Earth. As Melancholia gets closer and it becomes increasingly
obvious that it’s going to hit the Earth, the sisters almost swap
personalities, the depressed Justine taking the end of the world in her stride
while Claire dissolves into hysteria and entertains thoughts of suicide.

Overlong, ponderous and pretentious, Melancholia offers few insights on the
human condition other than von Trier’s belief that depressed people are good in
a crisis as they already expect the worst. While it’s gorgeously shot, definitely the most visually
stunning film von Trier has made (if Peter Greenaway made a disaster movie,
this is what it would like), with it’s melding of the personal with the cosmic
and its desperate groping for profundity, Melancholia
feels like a gloomy companion piece to this year’s self-indulgent Palmes
d’Or-winner The Tree Of Life.

Never the subtlest of filmmakers, watching
Melancholia feels like you’re being Danza slapped about the head by an engorged
von Trier for two and a bit hours.
“Look bitches,” he’s saying, “The film’s called Melancholia. (Slap) Kirsten Dunst is depressed. (Slap) She has melancholia. (Slap) She’s so depressed the
world is ending
. (Slap) That’s what it’s like being depressed. You want the world to end. Do you get it? (Slap)
Do you? (Slap) Who’s your
daddy? (Slap) Who’s your
daddy, bitch? (Slap) Yeah baby, Lars is your daddy…”

While von Trier’s diverse, eclectic cast are
uniformly excellent, with Dunst and Gainsbourg perfect as the sisters, Dunst
giving her finest performance in years and Gainsbourg almost equaling her
performance in Antichrist, and there
are individual moments of breathtaking beauty; that fantastic opening, Dunst
wandering the hotel grounds at night in her wedding dress like a demented Miss
Havisham, Gainsbourg spying on Dunst as she bathes naked in the rays of
Melancholia, the stunning climax, ultimately, Melancholia is a soporific disappointment.

David Watson

David Watson is a screenwriter, journalist and 'manny' who, depending on time of day and alcohol intake could be described as a likeable misanthrope or a carnaptious bampot. He loves about 96% of you but there's at least 4% he'd definitely eat in the event of a plane crash. Email: david.watson@filmjuice.com

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