The human brain is a compelling vessel. No matter how idiotic, we all have one. Though capable of using this brain for the most absurdly unique thoughts and actions, some of us go out into the world day after day without even the slightest interest in testing it, let-alone utilising all its power to create amazingly wonderful and innovative ideas. Film Maker Lars von Trier however is an enigma. He is arguably the only person alive* who successfully transcends both ends of the spectrum. As both a Film Maker and a human being, Lars von Trier highlights the best and worst features of this soft, shiny, greyish-white, mushroom-shaped blob we call the brain.
Lars von Trier’s contradictory manner is strangely compelling; he has made some fine films over his long career. Not being what you would call a “commercial” film maker, the masses have unfortunately missed some of his crowning highlights. Though, with the digital age and the growing accessibility of the international film markets his works are now becoming available. On the flip side, his experimental techniques & subversive subject matters have turned many people off. Like with most with un-formulaic film makers, he often struggles to make his material relevant to general masses. His perverse nature is an obstacle for most. Having opened mainstream cinema's door to explicit sexuality with 1998’s “The Idiots”, it’s not always easy to prepare yourself to watch one of his films. You just don’t know what you’re going to get. The shock and awe of his films are often accompanied by controversial press junkets, where his internal monologue is seemingly absent. Most recently, while promoting today’s film, he claimed to be a “Nazi “and that he “sympathises with Hitler”. Although he was using this untactful comparison to make a valid point, it shows the extreme ways in which his brain works.
His latest feature ‘Melancholia’ falls somewhere in-between the two extremes one can expect from Von Trier. Set in two parts, the film tells an apocalyptic tale told through the lives of two sisters. We learn almost immediately that the world will end at the end of the film. Once that cheerful news is out the way, we begin. Part one brings us to the wedding of Justine (Kristen Dunst). Justine is well into the tailspin of depression as she attempts to put on a mask of sanity for her Guests. The expensive reception paid for by her wealthy brother in law, John (Keifer Sutherland), is the backdrop for star filled guest list: Stellan Skarsgård (Good Will Hunting) , John Hurt (The Elephant Man) and Udo Keir (Dancer in the Dark), who all play into Justine’s decline & a reception that is destined for failure. Part Two brings us forward in time and is positioned from the view of Justine’s Sister, Claire. Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg), along with John offer to take care of Justine who by now is catatonic with depression. Simultaneously, we begin to experience the end of the earth, to be handed out by awesome power of ‘Melancholia': a rouge planet.
Whilst Melancholia is sublime in its imagery, its depression riddled plot and tiresome dialogue overpowers what otherwise could have been a truly compelling film. I have spoken with numerous people about it over the past months, and they were all somewhat polarised. There is certainly a film maker’s intellect at work here, which accounts for the vast difference in satisfaction between the general public and the film critics. The procession of critical comparison to Terrance Mallick’s ‘Tree of Life’ was inevitable; to me however, Tree of Life was far more compelling due to its uncompromising experimental delivery. Melancholia, clearly attempting to challenge the formula, falls short opting to dumb down the innovation and steer the audience safely to its conclusion.
Sometimes your gut instinct is right. Maybe today wasn’t the right day for such a film. On any other day I might have responded differently, but alas today is day 17 and this was the movie I saw. I need a drink.
*yes an exaggeration,