MOVIE REVIEW Tensions brew on Earth

Melancholia is a dramatic exploration of depression and disaster

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Kirsten Dunst plays a woman facing the end of the world in Melancholia.
courtesy of magnolia pictures
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Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures; photo by Christian Geisnaes.



Directed by Lars von Trier

Starring Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Kiefer Sutherland

Rated R

Now playing at Kendall Square Cinema

Melancholia opens with a series of breathtaking shots resembling four-dimensional-surrealist-painting scenes. The powerful prelude from the opera Tristan und Isolde directs the visual phenomena. Nothing comprehensible about the plot is given; we only know the movie is going to be intense.

Suddenly, the music stops. There appeared on the screen “Melancholia — Lars Von Trier” in the most strangely frivolous font. It is as if someone just blew a party horn after making a solemn speech. We only know the movie is going to be absurdly ridiculous. It is Lars Von Trier, after all.

Melancholia is a hard dose of reality in surrealistic narrative. The movie was nominated for Palme d’Or, and Kirsten Dunst won Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival. Danish director Lars Von Trier (Antichrist, Dancer in the Dark, Dogville) depicts the negative side of humanity, with commentary on the world’s materialism, and attachment to the nonsensical. It is comical and devastating. It is a farce. It is about us.

Melancholia follows the relationship of two sisters, Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg), as the end of the world approaches. Justine arrives at her sister’s house to for her wedding ceremony, but her depression complicates the matter. As the night wraps itself up in dysfunction, the worst in people begin to reveal itself, and the physical Melancholia is introduced as a planet that comes close to colliding with Earth. The story evolves around how the characters attempt to control the situation, suppress fear, and handle uncertainty and disasters.

In the film, the world is portrayed as a corrupted place, and Justine represents a pure being that is free from external reinforcement, false values, and ignorance. The movie exaggerates her independence to the extent that she is appears to be detached from reality. But, just as in Shakespeare, we know that the insane is the enlightened. If the juxtaposition of Justine and the world is a portrait of insanity and sanity, the truth is a negative print of that picture.

One of the major themes in the movie deals with the absurdity humanity has adopted as its normalcy. From the first scene on Justine’s wedding day, the limousine is too large to make a turn on a tiny road on the way to Claire’s mansion on a beautiful hill. Justine giggles and smiles as the couple waste a few hours and had to walk to their million-dollar wedding, making the stressful situation less of a serious problem and more of a delightful moment. The audience, too, giggle and smile. The reaction already reveals the human tendency to fall for the naturally expected, the conveniently assumed, just to avoid thinking about how dysfunctional we have become.

The nonsensical has become the norm. But while the atmosphere heads toward a downward spiral, the wedding, like life, still has to keep going. Justine drags herself through the event that one particular night. Obviously, it is the depression that is weighing her down. However, what is truly pulling her down is entanglement with other people. Everyone in the film keeps on dragging along as well, through the tension and the unpleasantness; instead of moving on with sensibility, they are driven by mere idiocy, selfishness, fear, and ignorance.

Melancholia is a movie filled with symbols. If you try to extract out objective qualities of the movie, or if you are not a fan of a big depressing mess, then the movie could be quite slow, strange, and, what just happened?

The end of the world allows categorization of people based on how they deal with the inevitable, which extends to a greater meaning. There are the innocent who follow and believe, the enlightened who accept and detach, and lastly, as with Claire in the last scene, the desperate, frightened, pathetic. The first two surely are in peace. The last one is characteristically human, painful to watch.

The end of the movie left the audience either laughing or crying hysterically, the general reaction to humanity when we actually take a good look at it. Personally, I would do both simultaneously but I couldn’t so I ended up feeling nauseated.