I’ve seen many facebook status updates and overheard a few comments from friends about this movie. The consensus was most people couldn’t even finish it and turned it off. So, what was so difficult about it? I think I can sum up the good and the bad about this film. And for the record, I actually liked the film. So did the critics because it’s winning awards.
Kirsten Dunst plays Justine in this Lars Von Trier film. She’s marrying Alex Skarsgard who plays Michael, and he wants nothing more than to have a normal evening with his new bride. Justine’s wealthy sister and brother-in-law are hosting the wedding at their sprawling mansion and have bent over backwards to give Justine her dream day.
The first 15 minutes of the film consists of the new couple arriving in a limo that’s too big to turn on the small curved street to the mansion; a foreshadowing sign that the marriage itself was just not going to work out due to unfortunate circumstances. Not only that but they are over an hour late to arrive. Even though they are aware of it, it seems like Michael doesn’t want to pressure Justine to do anything other than just walk in the door, albeit really late, because that’s all she can handle. They laugh and kiss each other sweetly during the most frustrating moments going back and forth, back and forth, when the limo driver can’t seem to make it work. Michael is so patient with her, and the limo driver, and they relish in a moment where it didn’t turn into a screaming match.
Although happy together, Justine can’t maintain stability throughout the evening and often runs around the mansion grounds to get away from her family and friends.
It sucks that everyone spent so much money on this fairy tale in the midst of Justine’s unyielding bipolar episodes. You aren’t exactly told what her issues are but she goes from extreme depression to spacing out to having sex on her wedding night with a random waiter in the grass. One can assume she’s unable to control herself during her selfish mood swings. You are given a picture of her parents’ broken relationship and their inability to parent Justine which is why her sister plays both roles.
Not surprisingly, Michael realizes he was wishing for something that was never going to happen. He leaves disappointed that Justine already turned into a pumpkin on what was supposed to be a night to propel her towards a more positive life. At this point you want to hate Justine for being such a selfish wench.
Meanwhile, the world is learning about a recently discovered neon blue planet called apropriately, Melancholia. Scientists are explaining that the planet’s trajectory will just narrowly miss Earth. But, they are wrong. Suddenly the planet is going to hit earth and destroy everyone.
If you find out that everyone is going to die in a few days, how will that change their relationships? The better question is do we even care? That’s the problem with the film…..some people just didn’t get attached the characters enough. You’re already starting out with a despondent type of main character who’s hardly likable and then you’re supposed to care about her imminent death. That’s the problem with the film, but a challenge I think Lars was aware of and happy to take on.
Justine’s habit of believing she’s already dead (unworthy) and the world sucks actually becomes an asset in dealing with everyone else’s anxiety regarding the moving planet. She’s able to cope much better with death than most people, including her sister. This world was never for her and it was never forever for anyone else. Justine is more at home in the ethereal neon blue light than she is partaking in a lavishly rich wedding with a hot husband.
Now here’s the part I think most people didn’t understand. Lars takes these Salvador Dali type still shots of the upcoming scene and holds them in the frame for about 2-3 minutes each. It reminded me of the Tree of Life universal shots. They were pretty cool looking but I’m not exactly sure what their purpose was other than to salute the traditions of human life and send them off with a moment of silence.
The other annoying factor was Kirsten Dunst running around the grounds in her dress just staring up at the sky, peeing in the grass, dancing around as if she’s completely wasted, etc. Most of the film was just this back and forth between the planet, still shots, Kirsten acting like a depressed idiot and shots of her family freaking out about her behavior.
I did like that Justine offered this unique perspective on paranoia in a situation where the end of the world becomes imminent. It was her calming acceptance that helped her family in those final moments. I felt that Justine was sensing things far beyond this world and her defects were born out of survival in a world she didn’t feel like she ever belonged to.
Lars often shows us that Justine in touch with nature. She’s naked in the forest one evening; soaking up the planetary energy waves. You’re left feeling like the foreign planet has these awesome powers that are infused into Justine’s veins; again reinventing her as a beacon of acceptance of the unknown and dangerous.
And finally, the most poignant emotion Lars evokes in the audience is the feeling of this majestic pending doom. What if you know the time you will die? How will this affect you and your loved ones? Do you shoot yourself? Hide in the basement? Run outside chanting? Well, each character has a different way of dealing with it.
Ironically Justine feels like it’s the end of the world all the time. Funny that no one else can handle that kind of pressure when they find themselves in this situation.
I can understand and relate to those people who didn’t want to sit through the film to see the obvious. The film wins in cinematography, Charlotte Gainsbourg’s acting (sister), overall themes (even if they weren’t fully realized by all audiences) and the relation of personal melancholia to an ability to remain calm in the face of death.