Thursday, October 20, 2011
The Weight Of The World
Melancholia is the latest film from Lars Von Trier, tagged as an “emotional disaster movie” about two sisters Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsboug, facing internal and external catastrophes. In the first half of the film we watch Dunst sabotage her own idealic wedding as a sudden gloom descends on her like light piercing between clouds, in patches at first until she’s immersed, and the weddings called off. The second half follows the other sister Gainsbourg as a hidden planet is on a crash course with Earth, and her denial, begging, and panic in it’s wake. “If you think I’m afraid of the planet, your too stupid.”, says Dunst in the second half, to a crumbling Gainsbourg. The first half of the film is like “Rachel Getting Married” a lavish wedding party with emotional dead lights slipping through cracks in the opulence. “We have a deal!...The deal is that you be happy.”, says Kiefer Sutherland, as Gainsbourg’s wealthy husband, bitterly footing the bill for in-laws he distrusts and resents. Dunst’s parents are divorced and vocal about it, her mother’s cruel comments to the wedding party contrast against her otherwise hippie free spirit attire. She is against this marriage, and marriage in general, her affable doormat husband is content to smile quietly as she berates him. We get the impression this fight has been going on for years, boiling over anytime the two come into contact with each other. Likewise we come to understand that Dunst’s angst is nothing new, her mother’s speech only serves as a catalyst. “Let’s not have any episodes today?” warns Gainsbourg to Dunst early on. Everyone at the wedding seems to be walking on eggshells, except for her mother who is claimed by her own misery early on, and refuses to leave her room or speak to her daughter. Like the planet Melancholia lurking all along behind a hidden star her soul sapping depression is waiting behind the forced smile Kiefer believes he has paid for with generosity. This relationship plays out another way between Dunst and her boss. Some have suggested Melancholia is a kind of companion piece to “Antichrist”, but that film had at least a promise of comeuppance for Willem Defoe’s smug psycho-therapy, while in "Melancholia" there is no justice, only calamity and “evil”. Dunst claims as much as the final act approaches, “the world is evil…and we're all be better off”.Like Ingmar Bergman’s “Persona” "Melancholia" opens with a dreamlike tableau of images obliquely representing events and images we will later observe, and also involves two women whose personalities slowly merge and their roles of authority and patient reverse. In “Anti-Christ” Gainsbourg lashes out at Defoe and herself, but in "Melancholia" with all encompassing destruction and extinction on it’s way even bitterness wears itself out. Dunst comes alive, so to speak, only as the end is closest and only when her sister and nephew are coming apart. Her, dare I say in a Lars Von Trier film review, compassion for her nephew and sister, comes from their entrance into the world of desperation and despair that Dunst has been occupying for most of the film. She could easily abandon them, but she decides (:SPOILERALERT:) to build a shelter that she has told the boy is magic. To me the construction of the shelter and the final moments are cinematically sublime, with all doom that’s come before, and the very literal death from above crashing down on them, and with Dunst's explicit refusal to sit on the porch with a bottle of wine as Gainsbourg suggest, for Dunst to play along with her nephew in one final illusion is what makes the film truly tragic, and not just fucked up and weird. The image we are left with is a frail shelter of twigs, with human beings holding hands in the center while the world bears down on them, unprotected by the magical belief and faith in the symbol they’ve erected around themselves. But still Dunst goes through with creating the symbol, even in a world where it’s empirically meaningless. I don’t mean to say the film supports the old “no atheists in foxholes” adage, or that the magic cave is just a satirical example of denial of death, Dunst choice to build the cave, is as much for her family whom she like life, loves (her nephew) and hates (her sister) regardless of it’s value as good or evil, because its all that’s still exists. All that’s left is hope, doubt, and innocence holding hands in the end, but it’s Dunt’s hope she’s done one true thing in the cave, the boy’s doubt that the cave will work or mean anything, and the innocence of Gainsbourg’s sobbing, jibbering, terror, if you watch the impact carefully you’ll notice Gainsbourg is the first to let go of the other two. As a rule, the endings of Lars Von Trier films, the final scenes, are usually the most important parts of the film. They radically challenge our views of everything that’s come before, most notably in “Breaking The Waves” and “Dogville”, and "Melancholia" continues with this tradition. Why was the fairy tale wedding ultimately a sham, but the real sham fairy tale enacted in the end scene more real than anything that’s come before? Is shared suffering necessary as a pre-requisite to connecting with other human beings? Think of those characters who hide from each other from the mother in her bedroom, to the father reduced to a goodbye note, to Sutherland’s abrupt exit, to Udo Kier as the wedding planner who won’t look Dunst in the face because “she ruined my wedding”, all of these are connected, twigs along the magic cave to keep Melancholia away.