Depressed bride + meteor = DOOM
Lately I’ve discovered I study so much better with classical music playing in the background. I’m not talking cute little flutes and harps; I prefer a dark, booming orchestra that shows how epic my homework assignment is.
A go-to on my study playlist is Wagner’s Prelude from Tristan and Isolde. I fell in love with this song after watching Lars von Trier's Melancholia on a flight last Christmas. It literally sounds like impending doom, which makes sense because that’s what the film is about.
Melancholia premiered at last year's Cannes Film Festival, but I felt like reviewing it now because there’s so much to say. It’s just so… Absurd. It’s divided into two acts, named after sisters, Justine (played by Kirsten Dunst) and Claire (played by Charlotte Gainsbourg). In Act I we witness Justine’s struggle with depression on her wedding day, elaborately planned by her estranged sister, Claire. Act II revolves around Claire caring for Justine as her illness worsens. To make matters even worse…er? the sun is careening towards Earth at an unstoppable rate. Hence the melodramatic score by Wagner.
I knew what I was getting myself into, having already watched the trailer. And I got exactly what I paid for: A Lars von Trier movie. It was just as unusual, randomly sexual, artsy and theatrical as I expected it to be, if not more.
The sun: Oh, you thought you were depressed? Wait until I crash into your planet! Mwahahaha!!!
Von Trier has a reputation. When he first screened The Antichrist at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, some reporters actually walked out. It was that disgusting. Even my mom, who can watch the goriest horror movies, could not handle it. And according to Kirsten Dunst, von Trier would sometimes pull his pants down onset and run around. This guy is nuts.
Not to say that Melancholia isn’t good. It is. But it’s not something you want to pop into the DVD player and watch on a Saturday night with pals. Unless they’re all artsy cool kids who wear berets. It’s a work of art that I need to only watch once, and that’s it. Maybe I’ll watch it again in ten years. But it’s so heavy that I can’t take more than one viewing. Which speaks of von Trier’s wonderful use of tone, from his ridiculous score to the chilling and extravagant mansion where the story takes place.
I would be a jerk if I didn’t mention the incredible talent of the cast. Dunst has always been a prodigy, and portrays Justine impeccably. She is never over the top, but behaves as a depressed woman would, especially at a party. That tiredness, the inexplicable need to be alone, the isolation from loved ones. Gainsbourg has a great dynamic with Dunst; it is evident that Claire must fulfill the role of mother to her sister as well as her own child. Her desperation to protect her family in the face of an apocalypse is almost tangible.
Melancholia is over the top, but I don’t think it would have worked had von Trier used a subtler approach. When someone has depression, they really do feel like the world is going to end, and in Justine’s case, she welcomes it with open arms.