Early this year, Pastor Harold Camping, a former radio host for a Christian family radio station, claimed that Jesus would return to Earth on May 21st of this year, take all the righteous persons, and leave the rest to rot for the next five months until the universe’s destruction on October 21st. Obviously, this didn’t happen. Camping resigned from his position on the station, and refused to give interviews regarding his false predictions. He earned millions of dollars in donations, and when his theories were proven false, he simply said, “We’re not at the end. Why would we return it?” My question to him is, “Why do you even need this money if the world is going to end?” Enough about my resentment of Christian fundamentalists, though, back to the article.
My point is, the end of the world is a scary thing. People tend to worry a bit when it’s announced that all that they know and love will soon be destroyed, including themselves. Others just come to terms with theories like this and act as if nothing is wrong. These two viewpoints are the focus of director Lars Von Trier’s new film, Melancholia. Focusing on two sisters named Justine and Claire (Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg, respectively), one getting married, the other trying to hold everything together. We then learn that a recently discovered planet named Melancholia is going to do a fly-by to Earth, but it will not hit it, as Claire’s husband, John (Kiefer Sutherland), assures her, as well as the audience. We know better though, we know exactly what’s going to happen.
That’s one of the many things wrong with Melancholia. We know all of Trier’s tricks (clever, huh?) before they actually happen. We’ve seen them before, and seeing as Melancholia is strangely similar in many ways to Trier’s previous effort, Antichrist, they do not surprise us.
Melancholia’s opening sequence, a super slo-mo overture set to the theme of Tristan & Isolde, is among the most pretentious, unnecessary scenes in cinematic history. Lasting for almost 8 minutes, it reveals the entire film, as well as serving no purpose other than to look interesting. Using slow motion to capture the, well, melancholic feeling of the entire film worked in Antichrist, but it definitely doesn’t work here. In fact, it detracts from the mood that the film sets for the remainder of its duration.
Opening on Justine’s wedding to Michael (Alexander Skarsgard), her very understanding and helpful fiancé, the film begins to gain momentum in all the eccentric characters presented to us. The wedding sequence itself lasts for about an hour, and opens up the doors to a lot of great opportunities for an interesting second half. Being part one of a two-part film, though, it abandons everything that ever was in its first half, including Michael, who Justine leaves after the wedding is over, and sticks her in Claire’s house for the rest of the movie. The second half is a mind-numbing exercise in pretentiousness, obvious symbolism, and absolutely no direction rather than the inevitable ending of Earth. The drastic contrast between Part 1 to the almost completely standstill Part 2 of Melancholia make the film almost unwatchable at a certain point.
The film’s storyline is fascinating, as are its characters, the situations, the dialogue, and especially the directing, but its refusal to tell a story and some inspired symbolism that is pounded into submission, makes Melancholia too melancholic for its own good.
Von Trier has been under fire recently for claiming that he sympathizes with Hitler at a recent Cannes Film Festival press conference. The blogosphere has named him a Nazi-sympathizer and a fascist. Now, I’m not one to sympathize with Nazis, but in Trier’s defense, his comments weren’t so radical as everyone seems to think they are. He seems to be an intelligent man, and anyone educated on Hitler would know that he was harshly abused as a child by many of his peers, as well as his family. Now, again, I don’t want to take the same path as Trier, say I sympathize with Hitler, and subsequently be known as a Nazi, but there’s two sides to every story, and a lot of times we don’t want to hear the other side. That’s all I have to say about that little shenanigan.
As far as the film itself, I’d go so far as to say it’s crap. I respect Von Trier as a filmmaker very much, and I was one of the few defenders of Antichrist, but he’s really outdone his own narcissism with Melancholia. If he keeps making films like this, being called a Nazi is going to be the least of his problems.