Monday, November 21, 2011


      The film is Melancholia, starring Kirsten Dunst in a role that won her Best Actress at Cannes 2011. You should see it. Technically, it's about the end of the world, courtesy rogue planet.

When worlds collide... it's really a bummer.

     There. With that out of the way, I can try to go into detail. I recently tried to explain to several friends why they should see this film, but the more I talked, the less I made sense. Nonetheless, here's my decidedly amateur review. If you want to take this time to go take a bathroom break or get a snack, I won't blame you.
      Basically, Kirsten Dunst plays Justine, a newly married woman who suffers from attacks of acute depression. The setting is the wedding reception at a very swanky private country club slash castle-esqe villa, owned by Justine's sister's (Claire) husband. No expense has been spared. Everything would seem to be perfect, except Justine. As she struggles to pretend to enjoy herself, she's overcome with feelings of desperation, doom, fear and depression, and her family and her brother-in-law berate her for being unable to enjoy the expensive festivities.  She repeatedly retreats from the festivities and drags herself (or is dragged) back.  Things take a turn for the worse when she publicly tells off her scumbag boss (who also happens to be her new husband's father). At this point, she begins to collapse completely.

      Meanwhile, it's revealed that a rogue planet, dubbed Melancholia, is passing through the solar system. Astronomers claim that it will pass close to the Earth, but not collide. The remainder of the film takes place here, as Claire tries to pull Justine out of her catastrophic (and at first catatonic) depression, Claire's young son excitedly prepares for the arrival of Melancholia, Claire's husband keeps more or less to himself, and Claire worries that the astronomers may be wrong. As Melancholia approaches, Justine somehow emerges from her own melancholia, even as Claire descends into terror and hopelessness. At first, Melancholia does appear to miss Earth, but relief is short-lived. Claire's worst fears are realized, as the characters prepare for the inevitable end. Before you get pissed at me for spoiling the ending, here's the synopsis on Wikipedia. As a matter of fact, the destruction of Earth is illustrated in the opening credits (spoiler warning!) And that's because, in a way, this really isn't a disaster movie at all (which is the main reason you won't see me launching into a geeky dissection of the believability of the physics in the film.)

       Notably, unlike any disaster film you've ever seen, there are no far-flung groups of protagonists, no shots of locales around the world preparing for the event, indeed, nothing at all outside the boundaries of Justine's brother-in-law's villa. And in a way, that's what makes the drama really shine. The actors don't have to compete with burning cities or panicked multitudes in the midst of a societal collapse. They are the only things seen breaking down, their various human frailties highlighted in aching detail. And ultimately, that's the meat of the film. The thing that strikes me most (hah) about Melancholia is that it really isn't about the story at all, it's about, well, melancholia. Every part of the film illustrates a different aspect of depression, with metaphors popping out like plastic rodents in a whack-a-mole game. The clueless and thoughtless comments of the family and wedding guests, the crushing weight of the titular planet, Justine's knowing hopelessness, Claire's descent to panic, even the cloud-painted sky and dark forest surrounding the location, all serve to paint a vivid and multifaceted portrait of depression.

       In a sense, the plot of Melancholia is irrelevant. It's a thing, not a process. If you asked a sculptor to sculpt "brooding contemplation," you might get The Thinker. If you asked a painter to paint "the horror of war," the result might be Guernica. And when a director illustrates depression on film, the result is Melancholia.  Whether or not that's something you want to see, well, that's up to you.  Personally, I loved it (but then, I always was the melancholy sort).

No comments:

Post a Comment