Still wrapping up on my 2011 films...
I'm ashamed to say that Melancholia is only the second Lars von Trier film that I've seen. For those who don't know, Lars von Trier is pretty well-known Danish filmmaker who is often labeled an "enfant terrible." For me, he's been a shell that I've been sort of afraid to crack, but I have seen and immensely enjoyed "Breaking the Waves." Still, that's not nearly enough for me to feel familiar and comfortable with von Trier's work (although, you can never really get too comfortable) so I wonder if that lack of familiarity affected my viewing of Melancholia because, honestly, I wasn't all too taken by the film.
The film stars Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, and Kiefer Sutherland and it's broken up in two parts. Basically, it's a look into the lives of two sisters Justine (Dunst) and Claire (Gainsbourg) days before a mysterious new planet collides into Earth. Since von Trier decides to give you a glimpse of what's going to happen at the end with some breath-taking extreme slow-motion shots of the characters in the film that are shown in the very beginning. The combination of those shots and the opening title card made me feel really excited for the rest of the movie.
However, the rest of the movie feels a little uneven especially in the first-half which I feel is marred by the hand-held camerawork aesthetic that von Trier chooses to employ. That said, you get a pretty good sense of who Justine is in the first half as the film does a great job of exploring a character going through a stage of depression whilst trying to enjoy herself and blend in during her own wedding. Justine's flaky, odd behavior comes much to the slight annoyance of her new husband and especially annoys John (Kiefer Sutherland) who paid a great deal of money to make the wedding reception possible. There's a lot of great, slightly humorous little moments in the first half but ultimately, it doesn't really amount to much.
The second half of the film is most definitely the better half as it gets right to the essentials of what the movie is all about: the psyche of these two sisters as planet Melancholia moves closer and closer to planet Earth. The whole second part of the movie just contains John, Claire, Justine, and Leo (John and Claire's son). In fact, the second half of the film is often quite brilliant and intense, especially when you know what's about to happen. Justine appears to become more and more relaxed and happy despite the feeling of this being the last days of human existence whereas Claire reacts the way I'm sure most would react: sheer, utter despair.
There is definitely something very jarring about watching the film's final moments unfold. The two sisters and young Leo sitting together in a "magic cave" as they wait for the end to come and then watching the planets collide is both beautifully bleak and quite disturbing. Couple that with the fact that film just fades to black and the end credits appear in total silence and... yeah, holy shit.
It's refreshing to see a film come along that is unapologetic in its approach to depict the last days of Earth. I especially enjoyed the way it was just about these four characters whereas Hollywood would have scenes with the government clamoring to find an answer or a solution and depictions of news media covering it all. But no, keeping the film about these characters makes it feel that much more personal and relatable.
Still, one has to wonder what "Melancholia" really amounts to, at the end. Lars von Trier's personality and intent is just all too clear and the movie really just feels like an F U to its audience. Of course this might delight fans of von Trier's work, but ultimately, it winds up leaving the entire audience feeling cold, too cold. There's nothing left, literally. It just happens. While there are some great performances here and the film really picks itself up for the second half, I ultimately feel nothing for this movie. For an end-of-the-world movie, it didn't feel powerful enough. It didn't leave a strong impression on me. When the characters die at the end, it just made me laugh and shrug my shoulders. Should I be disappointed in myself for feeling that way? I don't know, perhaps I'm already too much of a cynic to really be moved by a movie of this nature.
Then again, I was also very taken by the film's opening moments and maybe it was because I was so moved by the film's opening, that the ending ultimately just did not compare. Perhaps I expected too much and felt let down. Again, actually seeing planet Melancholia collide with the Earth was definitely something else, but after it happened, it just didn't leave any impact on me whatsoever.
Ultimately, Melancholia is an interesting film from Lars von Trier and maybe I'll revisit it after seeing more of his work. I don't really know if I can fully recommend it, but if you're looking for something interesting, something new, something artsy, then you should go out and see it. If you're looking to have a nice evening and want to watch something uplifting, this is not the film for you.