This movie required a thorough digestion before I actually understood what was going on. First of all, Lars von Trier is not for the faint of heart. If the movie you’re watching has a three minute long montage of stills that are going to happen in the following movie, you know it’s going to be somewhat complicated. Secondly, for my PG-13/ G rated inner child, he can be a bit much. If we measure my comfort zone in cookies, I’m a mellow oatmeal raisin with pinpricks of intrigue and Lars von Trier would be the caffeine-laden chocolate, coconut oil, applesauce things that my mother concocted this past week.
Melancholia is dark–and I mean trapped in a pitch black basement kind of dark. Anyone who has ever felt deep and prolonged (or clinical) depression will connect with Justine (Kirsten Dunst). Justine is a slow descent toward destruction and life on the earth is a rapid decent in the form of a planet hurtling toward it through the sky. Science has a “will it or won’t it collide with us?” moment with the planet. Unlike most apocalypse movies, there isn’t chaos everywhere with screaming people. There isn’t a half-baked filler romance meant to kill time. This end to the earth unfolds in slow, almost silent apathy in the backyard of a mansion.
Most of the time, Justine doesn’t make one feel sorry for her, and her dysfunctional family is no better. Her brother-in-law (Kiefer Sutherland) is arrogant, her mother (Charlotte Rampling) is self-absorbed and insists on making a scene. Her father (John Hurt) does so in a different manner with his “girls”. It seems like her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is almost the sane one in the family trying to hold it all together–almost. Justine’s redeeming quality is her affection for her nephew, which seems to be the only thread connecting her to reality.
Her depression is underscored pretty well in the movie by the fact that she’s getting married (which to many women can be the happiest day of their lives) and her funk is a black hole sucking all the potential happiness out of the event. She’s getting married to Eric Northman and you’d think she’s marrying to a 60-year old leper against her will. What was most fascinating about the movie is how it deals with depression. It doesn’t sugar coat the detachment, the apathy, the seeming selfish, and the yearning to be free of everyone. The lens that we view depression in Melancholia connects us with Justine one moment and makes us hate her in the next. Sometimes depression in reality can be similar–wanting to help the person going through it and then losing patience because you don’t understand why they will not change or help themselves. It speaks to the much larger issue of depression being an illness and not necessarily because depressive people want to be the incarnation of Eeyore.
You can just sense the hope dying in everyone’s eyes as Eeyore foregoes even an iota of levity.
Melancholia has Justine waiting to self destruct, but instead reaching a place of stillness and calm while everything else destructs around her. As the earth collides with the planet, there is a bittersweet sense of peace that everything will be fine even though the whole planet is being blown to sparkly bits. The lack of bells and whistles in terms of explosions, the thousands of extras that come standard in a disaster movie, and filler really kept a sharp focus on an honest depiction of depression and a human focus on the end of the world confined to one family instead of the news reports, government reactions, etc.
Melancholia was a hard but refreshing and must needed look at depression combined with the end of the world. I think life would be a little calmer if we just faced our daily end of the worlds with dignity and a calm reality.