I saw the new Lars von Trier film, Melancholia, in a cinema. I admit upfront: I cried near the end, I cried on the walk home. I cried in bed. Damned Tristan und Isolde Prelude.
The imdb website includes the description “Two sisters find their already strained relationship challenged as a mysterious new planet threatens to collide into the Earth.” This, however, is a bit ridiculous. More apt would be “The world, and everything we know, comes to its end. Here is how four humans meet theirs.”
Lars von Trier was fighting a bad bout of clinical depression when he made this movie. Knowing something about the disease will, I believe, make the viewer more sympathetic to the film.
Many people still confuse depression with sadness, but it is more of an inability to feel, or hope, or care. And if the world is indeed about to end, why should anyone bother to care? What is the point of giving a child, or anyone, hope that does not exist? Is it for their benefit, or for ours?
As I watched the film, I was aware at how knowing how it will end affected how I viewed the proceedings (we all know the end, as it is the first thing that happens in the film). I found myself keeping at an emotional remove from the characters, feeling or knowing that none of it was going to matter anyway — and that is, I believe, exactly what von Trier was aiming for. The endless, insufferable wedding party shows us at our worst — needing ritual for ritual’s sake, failing to communicate, failing to listen or understand, bowing to pressure, going through the motions, breaking down. I found myself watching the scenes as an anthropologist dissecting a culture, thinking “This is what we’ve come to.” I also found myself deciding in mid-cake-slicing that life is too short to attend another wedding, ever. I may feel differently after the melancholy wears off. Or not. (Later, I understood that the wedding party represented the period of time, compressed into one interminable night, when people begin to abandon a person who is suffering from depression. At first, all rally around, try to put on a brave face, begin to lose patience, then give up and leave as s/he disappoints again and again. Only the strongest and closest stick around, although it pains them.)
Life is too short. Our lives. And then, yes, at some point the world will indeed end, when the sun becomes a supernova and incinerates everything on Earth. Maybe in a few million years. Humans will most likely be gone by then. I certainly hope so (do we really want our descendants to experience that kind of horrible end?) In the meantime, what is the point of living, with what do we fill our lives during the time we have, if it is all going to end, all of it, sooner or later? If there is no point in going on, why do we go on?
Because we Love. It’s part of our makeup, it seems, to feel love. Everything else — fairness, charity, desire, fear, envy, hate, — comes from love or lack of it. Really there is nothing else.
And that is all there is, in the end, in von Trier’s film as in life.
Oh, you want to know what I thought of the film? Well then. Kirsten Dunst works well in roles requiring world-weariness. She can give off both life-force and an unfeeling disconnect, as one saw in her performances in “The Virgin Suicides” and “Interview with the Vampire.” The entire work is finely cast, above all Charlotte Gainsbourg. My only qualm was with the child, but I cannot fault Cameron Spurr for his performance. Rather, von Trier’s method of allowing actors to improvise their dialogues doesn’t work here. Because Spurr seems to have been given no real direction, he comes across as having mediocre, unimaginative dialogue. These were the scenes where I was pulled out of the story and forced to view it critically. It distracted.
There is also a big lack of media presence, which is just as well, but doesn’t realistically reflect human behaviour today. A few characters were able to log onto the internet, but there was not a television, radio or newspaper to be seen or heard anywhere. Contrast this to M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Signs”, where the kids are glued to the television news programs about the invading aliens, desperate for outside information.
But this is all nit-picking. This movie makes one think about bigger things, and how small and insignificant those big things really are, outside ourselves. A depressed person once told me that he feels he sees the world more clearly than others, maybe too clearly. The gravitational pull from that rogue planet is not easy to shake off.