Saturday, 8 October 2011

Melancholia - Lars von Trier (2011)

  1. Lars von Trier's Melancholia is the most pompous film since Terence Malick made The Tree of Life. It's straining to say some deep stuff about the contrary forces at work in human nature. And like The Tree of Life it collapses under the weight of its own ponderous intentions.
  2. It's in two parts, the first follows depressive, Justine (Kirsten Dunst), through the ordeal of her wedding reception, hosted at the ludicrous country pile owned by her sister, Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and brother-in-law, John (Kiefer Sutherland). The house is an art director's masturbation fantasy, all oak panelling and Murano glass chandeliers juxtaposed with mid-century modernist furniture.* Because it's her wedding they've decked the whole lot out with flowers, candles and fairy lights. She's even been lucky enough to find a kind of humanoid puppy to marry, in the form of Alexander SkarsgÄrd. But is this enough to make Justine happy? Go on, guess. There's a clue in the title.
  3. The second part is a remake of Armageddon but shot by Lars Von Triers, and without the uplifting ending.
  4. There's a major problem with putting a Michael Bay set-up into an arthouse film. In a Bay movie when you want to explain something you can just use two lines of expository dialogue. e.g.: 'Oh sweet fucking Jesus, it looks like the death planet is going to hit us after all, in fact our sensors show that it's approaching (looks over at beeping sensor) at eight million miles per hour.' Obviously Lars von Trier can't bring himself do this, so instead we get Kiefer Sutherland futzing distractedly with a really tasteful telescope before taking a massive overdose. (Spoiler, btw. Sorry.) Kiefer has to OD because it's impossible to use terms like 'velocity', 'massive explosion' or 'impact' in a film where manic depressives shamble around crying on the way to the bath.
  5. Some of the contortions necessary to make all this work are horribly painful. A seven year old boy fashions a rudimentary astrolab from a coat hanger and a stick, and we have to keep referring to this to confirm that, yes, the planet is really coming toward the earth - sometimes with the addition of a wristwatch in shot. Really a beeping sci-fi death sensor would have been more dignified.
  6. Kirsten Dunst's performance is great. Her character is a horribly accurate portrait of a depressive, which may cause you to think very ungenerous things about the untreated depressives you know. It is very hard to feel sympathetic towards people whose feelings bear no relation whatever to the world around them. As much in life as in cinema. But maybe that's Trier's point: they're on another planet.
  7. Dunst moonbathes topless - it's probably the only scene in the film that isn't disappointing.
  8. von Trier seems to be saying something about the persistence of depressives in the gene pool. They really come into their own in a crisis. The prospect of her own extinction causes Claire to fall apart - Justine just doesn't give a shit. In fact, Justine's behaviour doesn't make any sense, unless you're in a situation where we're all going to die...
  9. ... but of course we are all really going to die. Doesn't matter if you're working in a Prontaprint in Hull, you might has well be sitting under a hastily constructed wigwam in the grounds of a National Trust-grade stately home as another planet crashes into the earth at 6 million miles per hour. EITHER WAY YOU'RE STILL GOING TO DIE AREN'T YA?
  10. Justine is a copywriter. Her boss promotes her during his speech at the reception to 'Art Director' - does he mean 'Creative Director'? Because if so, that is some massively sloppy research right there.

*It shares The Tree of Life's irrelevant preoccupation with interior design, that made watching that film feel like taking peyote with the editor of World of Interiors. And look, if fancy curtains and all that are so venal, why do people like Lars von Trier take such delight in shooting them? Is it done with the intention of holding a mirror up to our own venality - or is it simply because he likes looking at Charles Eames toilet brushes as much as we do?


  1. At what minute does the moon bathing scene occur?

  2. WTF? I got your tweet. I came to check out (and enjoy) the site. I decided to go and check notvoodoo to reminisce about your old blog and realise that you never stopped posting! First time I visited since

    #thisiswhyyoukeptgettingpostsaboutDFW !

  3. @Ben
    It's around the middle of the second half, but it is so distinctly not disappointing that it makes watching the rest of the film almost worthwhile.

    Yep, sorry about that.

  4. Finally watched it but got bored at the 45 minute mark and started fast-forwarding.
    It was indeed worth it. Now Magnolia is on TCM.

  5. Just a quick and - apologies - anonymous (can't be bothered to login in to goole right now) point: it's worth noting that the stylisms of the film are owed, oh, pretty much in entirety to Last Year In Marienbad.

    This is art house cinema so such borrowing is "homage" rather than "ripping off"...