Melancholia and the Infinite Sadness

Fox: Every time I finish a Von Trier film I can't even talk about it for at least a few hours. I need to give it time to stop bouncing around in my head. I need it to stop smashing every cerebral wall I've ever built in my brain's "expectations for a film" section.

I had the opportunity to see the first hour of this one and then have to wait about a week to see the rest. What that really ended up doing to me was forcing me to think about the film before I'd seen the entire thing. That's a no no for me when it comes to Von Trier.
As far as the film itself goes, I really loved it. Probably more than I've enjoyed any of the other VT flicks that I've seen. The reason for this is that I find it to be the most mature thing he's every produced. In addition to that it’s also fully realized. There's no jump the shark moment in it and I could probably list specific instances of Lars jumping said shark in every other one of his films that I've seen.

As for maturity, Lars seems to have finally found a truly adult way of expressing his problems with the world. Antichrist at least seems to have appeared after Lars had a bad breakup. We've been saying that as a joke about the film since we all saw it but the truth of the matter is Antichrist seems to reek of embitterment. Melancholia instead approaches an incredibly serious topic, that of severe depression, with a sage-like calm. Kirsten Dunst's character Justine never really flies off the handle. She acts erratic at times for sure but most of the film shows that depression can be awful. It can be debilitating. It can be mean. And the instances that Lars has chosen to depict prove above all else that he has most surely experienced this horrible condition. The first conclusion I really came to after viewing the film was that Lars wanted to tell a story about depression but he almost wanted to apologize for those who were close to him during his own depressed period. Kirsten Dunst somehow remains a sympathetic character throughout the movie even though she is such a handful to everyone around her. And most of the people around her really are doing their best to make her or keep her happy. It seems to me that Lars really wished to show that in retrospect he is fully aware of how troublesome he was to other people during his dark times and Melancholia's basic story seems to be his expression of that awareness.

Scout: Well, I'd leap in to argue some point, but I agree with all of this. I think this is, if not his most mature, then certainly the film that contains nothing of his "Fuck you, audience" attitude, beyond, of course, the conceit, nothing of what I'd call his purposefully trying to be called an Enfant Terrible (though Bruce LaBruce would have a problem with that, at his age), and there's nothing here to upstage the action; no visual tricks, no winking at the camera, no talking fox. In other words, this is his 13 Assassins. In my review I got to roughly the same points, and I think the most important point is that this is the first character he's written that is entirely him. Charlotte Gainsbourg in Antichrist is too over-the-top to be anything like a convincing facsimile, though I think he wanted us to believe they were equal. Justine is him though, and in an eerie coincidence, the two of them fucked up a big ceremony with their behavior - how no one at Cannes caught onto this is fucking ridiculous. It's as simple as this: no one gets raped (unless you count Brady Corbett, and I don't) or maimed, so he was making sure that the audience wasn't entirely safe. Alfred Hitchcock used to do his own previews where he wanders around the set, trying to blend fact and fiction before presenting his work of art, putting you on unsteady ground. Von Trier was doing the exact same thing when he gave that press conference. If he couldn't fuck with you in the film, he was going to do it before you walked in. And then it gave him further opportunity to bow out of public in disgrace, vowing to "never give another interview." In other words, making himself out to be even more like Justine. If you think I'm bullshitting you, look up every single Cannes press conference the man has given. There's a little bit of nonsense like that in everyone, if the film's don't have enough in their already. I'm pretty sure Mark Kermode has my back on this one.

But regardless I have nothing to argue with in your reaction. It's my favourite Von Trier and though the establishment would pick Dogville or Dancer in the Dark as his objective best, I say fuck them. This is it. This is his Vertigo, or The Birds (both get shout-outs), or whatever people agree is Hitchcock's best (I’d go Notorious, they share a velvety texture, a blonde in trouble with the ultimate, unthinkable, unfeeling evil and insanely high stakes). Even the Wagner prelude he uses sounds like one of Bernard Herrmann's perfect scores (I realize I've got that backwards, but you get my meaning). I have very few complaints about Melancholia. It's very near the top of my list of best films of the year and I can't wait to own it.

Fox: I guess if I have an argument it isn't with the film but instead it’s with the Cannes judges. Not that Kirsten isn't wonderful in this film but Charlotte Gainsbourg ultimately gets more screen time to herself. At least it seems that way. I guess Cannes giving Kirsten the award isn't a point of contention with me as much as it is a false advertiser for the story itself. I went into Melancholia expecting a lot more Kirsten then I got. And Charlotte is absolutely lovely in her half of the film. I'm not even upset I was surprised I'm just really taken aback by Lars' choice to split the perspective like he did. Especially since Kirsten's half focuses so heavily on her depression while Charlotte's storyline is all about the planet. Each half of the film takes on one half of what the story is about. These aren't complaints or arguments. In fact now that I look back I'm just puking all over this post but there you are. Whatever you can make of my comments I'd love to hear your take.

Lars actually does play it smart by splitting the film seemingly in two. Part one is horror masked by pure joy. Part two is horror unmasked. Like the kind of depression that Justine is dealing with, the end of the world in imminent and entirely out of control. It was be incredibly ineffective to tell the latter half of Melancholia from Justine's point of view. The calm nature that springs from her depression would be truly difficult to relate to. The audience needs to be Claire. We need to want to fucking destroy Justine just as Claire admits she wants to. We like Claire fear this destruction. Even though he shows it to us in the opening of the film we still, like Claire, have some sort of hope in the furthest reaches of our minds that Melancholia will simply pass us by. So every time Claire picks up the homemade planet detector we're on the edge of our seat.

Meanwhile, Justine is a goddamn robot. She moon-bathes. She barely eats, speaks, or rides Abraham. But even after we detest every moment we have to spend with this depressed person we are so happy she is with us at the end of the world. She's there right next to us, holding our hand and comforting our son who we can't even bring ourselves to do because we are so scared. The more I think about this film the more I realize it’s so much bigger than it lets on.

Although I really would like to know about the bridge. Abraham won't cross it. The golf cart dies on it. What is that bridge?

Scout: To pick just one thing to go with here, to start, I think the bridge is normalcy. The bridge is the "happy" life that Claire has for herself. Justine has chance after chance to get happy (or at the very least pretend) and everytime she fails, Claire's response is to get her out of bed, most of the time to ride the horse (who at first looks like a counterpart to her ex-husband-to-be) but the bridge means accepting the life. She bucks the happiness her family assumes she wants/has, just as the horse won't cross the bridge. The dynamics are maybe a little hard to pin down, but I do think that her refusing to get over the bridge is her not wanting or willing to accept normalcy. She's ill and needs to be cured, and her beating the horse is the same thing as her pretending to get married and being punished by everyone around her. Think about every passive aggressive thing that they say to her on her wedding night, I'd bet money that for every comment, there's a crack of the crop on poor Abraham's back.

I agree entirely about needing her next to us because what seems at first a total downer (as the film itself might if you're explaining it's bullet points to anyone), is all the comfort you could possibly have in that situation. "Shut the fuck up and enjoy the spectacle/that you're with the only people you love in the world when it happens." Melancholia is just death, and while Claire tries to run from it, she can't and though Justine may not have a Healthy attitude, at least she isn't in hysterics when it drives up the block and crushes her. It's not much consolation, but on the purest level, Von Trier found the one upshot to depression and I know that I've long thought that myself. Think about death enough and you've got to be slightly more prepared for it than everyone else. This is of course nonsense, but Justine and I seem to have the same outlook on things. Which is why the film is so goddamned compelling to me. Every Single Thing she does makes perfect sense to me, so there's a sublime sense of warmth watching her actions. She's right, for once, and she knows exactly what she's doing.

As for Cannes, my only explanation is that Charlotte got it last year.

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