Sunday, January 8, 2012
Film is typically better served by motion, not inertia, which means depression is hardly the most cinematic state. But finer films have been hewed from lesser materials than this, and Lars von Trier actually has the chops to pull off Melancholia’s morose metaphysical wonder show. The director begins his film with a stunning, dreamy prologue filled with slo-mo visions of key events to come, including such incidental plot points as the destruction of all life as we know it (spoiler alert!). Thus assured everyone will die a horrible death—after all, this is a Lars von Trier film—the audience is now free to enjoy everything that follows. The rest of the film is divided between a tense wedding party where the bride breaks down and urinates on a golf course and an apocalyptic chamber drama in which a giant metaphorical construct—excuse me, I mean planet—is on a collision course with Earth. However, the real focus is the relationship between two sisters, depressed Justine and nurturing Claire (Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg, respectively, in a powerful pair of performances). Happiness seems both a burden and a threat to suffering Justine, who struggles half-heartedly through her wedding before succumbing to all-consuming despair and moving in with her sister. Indeed, her depression is so voracious it decimates all around her, in a brutal process captured with an empathy uncommon to von Trier’s work. This may well be the tenderest violence of his career. By the film’s final, fiery moments, Melancholia seems not so much a symbol of depression as a merciful relief from it.