What better way to ring in the year that our world is supposed to end than to review a movie where the world really does end! Whoops, spoiler alert. No, not really a spoiler alert, because I’m pretty sure that in the trailer they let you know we’re doomed. Considered by some to be one of the best movies of 2011, it was also surrounded by some of the most controversy, thanks to the ever outspoken director Lars von Trier. At the Cannes Film Festival, there was a press conference to promote the film where some of von Trier’s awkward answers made him sound like a Nazi sympathizer, escalating to the point of claiming to be a Nazi, resulting in him not being allowed to attend the rest of the festival. He’s a German, in France, holding a press conference in English. Not to say that he should be absolved of what he said, but give me a fucking break. From watching the footage, it’s obvious that he was trying to make an inappropriate joke that didn’t go over well, admitted it wasn’t going over well, which dug him deeper into a hole. This wasn’t a Michael Richards situation, this was a guy trying to make a joke that didn’t go over well, and rather than changing the subject, turned the ridicule on himself. I’ve been there plenty of times, when I make a joke that is appropriate (but usually inappropriate), and when it doesn’t go over well end up making myself look worse. And that’s when I’m speaking English to people who also speak English! That language barrier seemed to fuck up the intended humor and self-deprecating intent and now he’s never doing press conferences again. Thanks a lot, France! By the way, in addition to knowing the world ends, there’ll be some spoilers coming up, and I recommend skipping my review and just watching the movie because I thought it was awesome.
Friendly reminder: the Earth gets smashed.
The first few moments of this movie we see some surreal images that foreshadow what we’ll see in the rest of the film. Lots of images of Justine (Kirsten Dunst) being sad and trudging through mud, weird weather effects, and a planet crashing into Earth and completely obliterating it. The title card pops on screen, then we start “Chapter 1” of the film, which is titled “Justine”. Justine has just gotten married and is on her way to her own reception with her new husband Michael (Alexander Skarsgård). When the pair arrive, they are yelled at by Justine’s sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and her husband John (Keifer Sutherland), which is understandable because they were the ones paying for it. The next hour of the film reveals that Justine has been struggling with depression and is doing her best to hold it back on even this, her supposed day of celebration. She manages to remain completely cold and distant to her new husband, tell off her boss, who then fires her, as well as having sex with someone she just met. The night ends with the pair going their separate ways, and everyone is pretty much just bummed out or angry about life sucking.
How can you be sad while dancing around with John Hurt!?
This is when we jump to Chapter 2, entitled “Claire”. Early on in Chapter 1 the characters noticed some sort of bright star or planet or something in the sky and John, a scientist, mentions it’s peculiar, but not in any sort of ominous way. We learn in Chapter 2 that this light is a planet called “Melancholia” that is supposed to swing past Earth, but miss it completely. This doesn’t stop Claire from getting really worked up over it, leaving John to be the one calming her down. Considering the huge depression Justine sinks into because of the incidents at the wedding, she becomes Claire’s responsibility for the time being. For the entirety of this chapter, Justine is either asleep or acting like a bitch towards everyone. I guess single-handedly destroying your own wedding hours after getting married does that to you, which would also explain why Claire found pills that would cause someone to overdose and die if they were taken. As Melancholia approaches, everyone gathers to watch it get closer and closer, then eventually further and further away. After seeing John scrawling some things in a notebook, we see Claire go searching for him. She picking up a toy her son made that he was using to measure how close Melancholia was to Earth and becomes upset when Melancholia appears to be coming back towards Earth. When she ultimately finds John, it is in a barn, where he’s died from an overdose on Justine’s pills. Having this confirm her worst fears, she tries to make peace with her sister and provide her son with a peaceful few hours, their last on Earth. The planet gets closer and closer, and Justine, Claire, and Claire’s son all sit down inside a small fort they’ve made with sticks as they wait for Melancholia to completely obliterate the planet, which we ultimately see it do firsthand.
Does that telescope shoot planet-destroying lazers? No? Then you’re fucked.
Goddamn you, Lars, and your ability to crush everyone’s souls. Although I wouldn’t say I “liked” his previous films, they have certainly had an impact on me. I really would like to say that Melancholia was actually two separate films, considering the difference in subject matter in each chapter, but I don’t think either would have the same impact were they not viewed together. At least in terms of visuals, especially with his work on Antichrist, I think von Trier is incredibly talented. Watching his take on the apocalyptic/sci-fi subject matter of this film, it reminded me of feelings I had when I first saw Danny Boyle‘s foray into sci-fi with Sunshine. Even though the opening sequence didn’t have the same exact shots being recreated later in the film, it let you know the tone of the film with all of its strange, haunting, and surreal imagery. From lightning shooting off of Justine’s fingers to a horse sinking into the Earth, you knew that you were about to endure a slow struggle for happiness, that despite moments of happiness or excitement, these things were just harbingers of the eventual end of all things. The mixing of the sound is also something to make note of, as the musical segments of a wedding reception in Chapter 1 to the ominous, deafening, crushing sounds of a planet swooping past our own, only to slingshot back to completely destroy it. Pretty fucking intense stuff.
Whoops, forgot to mention this takes place on Tattooine. Hahaha, just kidding, Tattooine has two SUNS, not two MOONS you idiots!
Even after all the controversy at Cannes, Dunst was able to walk away with the Best Actress Award for her performance. While glancing over her filmography, I see that she’s been in multiple movies every single year since 1994, when she was 12 years old. Having seen her grow up on film, she’s always had the whole “girl next door” vibe to her, that is, if your next door neighbor was exceptionally attractive. It really wasn’t until Spider-Man in 2002 (where she played the girl next door who was exceptionally attractive) that she became a household name, and seems to have played that type of character ever since this. The first choice for the character of Justine and the actress who had helped develop the movie with von Trier was Penelope Cruz, who dropped out to do Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. I couldn’t help but watch every single scene thinking of how Cruz would have fared, and made me really want to see how that film would have turned out. Despite being constantly compared to another actress, I still think Dunst was able to stand out, even though she wasn’t necessarily stepping too far out of her comfort zone. The first half of the movie took you through a range of emotions, thinking everything from her being a self-centered bitch, to feeling sympathy for her sadness, to rage at cheating on her new husband, to pity on a character who was hellbent on self-destruction. The second half really belongs to Gainsbourg for showing the sympathetic vulnerability of a person who is willing to sacrifice themselves if it means helping someone they care about. Certainly a far stretch from her role in Antichrist and featured far less genital mutilation. The entire supporting cast was great also, from Sutherland, to Stellan Skarsgård who played Justine’s boss, to John Hurt as Justine and Claire’s father, and even the wedding planner, played by Udo Kier, was a hilarious juxtaposition from his typical roles of “scary German guy”.
Kirsten Dunst’s boobs and wolves. I know that’s what everybody came here for. I only mildly edited the original image, and I apologize for delving into the “NSFW” realm.
But the question remains: did any of this actually happen? Von Trier has said that the intent of his film was to examine the human psyche when confronted with disaster, and he himself was battling with depression while developing and making this film. Could one interpretation of what happens in the film be that Justine is so overwhelmed with sadness and depression that she manifests the end of the world herself? Maybe that “star” she saw at her wedding really was just a star, but through the events that transpired on her wedding night, she hoped for it to be another planet hurtling towards Earth. Some would argue that this could negate the whole point of the film, having it take place inside one character’s head, and other could argue this theory would only emphasize how omnipresent and powerful a force depression can be for someone. Something that could back that theory up has to do with a bit of dialogue that’s repeated multiple times. John’s character mentions there being 18 holes on his golf course a few times, yet when Claire realizes that Melancholia is going to hit Earth, she tries to escape on a golf cart with her son. Sadly, that golf cart stops working at hole 19. Is this symbolizing a break in reality? Is any of this actually happening? Do these events lose importance for the audience if it’s all happening in Justine’s head? I don’t think so. Whether you take this film in its most literal sense, which would be a group of characters and their last moments on Earth, or the more symbolic idea that depression can make someone feel like the world is ending and embraces that end with peace, I find it to be a powerful piece of work. I wish I had seen this movie in 2011 so i could have included it in my list of favorite movies, but I guess it is stuck with this super-long review instead. Oh, and even though I liked it, it’s still no Armageddon. I mean, come on! Steve Buscemi AND Ben Affleck?! When Affleck is crying because Bruce Willis is staying on the meteor?! Now THAT is some fucking ART! That’s so much art that it makes Melancholia look like a piece of FART.
Wolfman Moon Scale