Proof Review: Melancholia (2011)

Release Date
November 11, 2011
Director
Lars von Trier
Screenplay
Lars von Trier
Budget
$9.4 million
Drama, Foreign, Science Fiction
Rated R for some graphic nudity, sexual content and language
136 minutes

Melancholia
09fourhalf-stars

“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.”
Thomas Merton – Author

As I sat by myself in the packed Nuart Theater in Santa Monica, following the end of Melancholia, two striking things occurred to me. First of all, almost everyone in the audience (mostly college-aged young adults) was dumb-founded: “this wasn’t the thrilling drama I expected” and “what were Kirsten Dunst and True Blood’s Alexander Skarsgård doing in this film”. During the film, a young woman in front of me even turned to her companion sitting next to her and asked “what did you bring me to?”. The second thing I realized after the film was that Melancholia was a hauntingly beautiful masterpiece and one of the best films I had seen that year, creating a gulf between me and a majority of those sitting in the theater around me.

Melancholia is an artistic film, which probably turns most audiences off, the same audiences not wanting to be depressed while watching a film. Most people attend the theater for escapism, not looking to be reminded of the utter destruction we could possible face in our futures, and unfortunately for them, that is exactly what Melancholia’s plot does, set around a planet called “Melancholia” headed in earth’s direction. It brings to light what very little time we may have on earth and how one rogue planet could end us all. Lars von Trier makes his intentions clear within the first scenes, not wanting the audience to be caught in the suspense and mystery of the eventual outcome and to focus solely on his characters and their emotions during the crisis.

Kirsten Dunst reaches a turning point in her career with Melancholia. Her performance is unlike anything she has delivered before and as one of the main characters, she carries the film masterfully. Dunst plays Justine, the sister getting married at the start of the film. Quite the wild child compared to her sister, Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg), Justine lives in her own world and battles her depression even on what should be her happiest day. Dunst holds nothing back in her role and it shows, even enough to get her the Best Actress Award at the Cannes Film Festival. She transforms herself from the lovable, uber-sexy bride to the deeply depressed and deeply disturbed sister that cannot eat, but spews hate towards her lovingly naive sister. It is this performance that should launch her career in new and bright futures, depending on where she decides to take off next.

Unlike some of Lars von Trier’s earlier work, Melancholia is much more accessible. Along the lines of Terrence Malick’s The Tree Of Life, also from 2011, von Trier dares to delve into exquisite visuals to tell his story. Though much more coherent and with much more thread of story than The Tree Of Life, Melancholia takes a much more artistic approach over an experimental one. The highlight of the vision includes the slow motion photography at the beginning of the film, which sets the tone for the entire experience, projecting like moving paintings, both haunting and gorgeous, simultaneously. Top that off with the ethereal and overwhelming orchestrated score and you get one of the most memorable films of 2011.

As stated earlier, Melancholia is art. And as with most art: a) you either get it or you don’t and b) there is a large pool of people that do not care for art. Those who do care for the art of film, however, know what Melancholia embodies. Melancholia is a visceral experience, leaving chills and revelations even past the credits. There is an intensity brought on from the film’s conclusion and a full circle ending that causes for multiple viewings (which I was able to do at the start of the year at the Fargo Theater with a much more gracious crowd).

 

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