Oh Lars! You have done it again.

Melancholia (2011, Lars Von Trier) feels like an AmericanizedAntichrist(2009, Lars Von Trier). Both films deal with evil, relationships, nature and forces of nature that are evil. Melancholia opens with beautifully composed classical music seeming to be conducting the sequence of shots rolling in extreme slow motion of Justine (Kirstin Dunst who won the best actress in Cannes for this role), having visions of her demise as the world ends, and is the affected main character in this film. The arrangement of theses extreme slow motion  sequences which are saturated and sharp, create a very poetic nearly unconscious absorption of visual indulgence. Every single shot in this opening sequence is picturesque. Especially but not limited to the scene (above) where Justine envisioned herself tangled in webs holding her to the earth. Her character deals with a difficult mental struggle to cope with her depression throughout the film, and this single shot illustrates that in a perfect metaphor.

In Von Trier fashion, just like Antichrist, Melancholia is divided up into acts; Opening Act- a foreshadowing of what’s to come (so you know inevitably the earth will be destroyed by the planet Melancholia), Part One-Justine, Part Two-Claire, and The End, which is actually the end of the film, the earth, and human existence. The ending sounds dismal but was actually quite a calming relief after the uncomforted the film amplified in the audience. There is also something calming in accepting ones fate.

Part One- Justine: Justine’s sister Claire (played by Charlotte Gainsbourg who is a favourite in von Trier’s recent films) and her husband John (Kiefer Sutherland) throw her and her husband Michael (Alexander Skarsgård) a very formally informal wedding reception at their elaborately exquisite estate, complete with an 18 hole golf course manicured in the likeness of a smaller Versailles. This part of the film was almost entirely shot handheld aside from the atmospheric establishing shot here and there. The garden hosing camera technique and the focus racking in and out was very disruptive, until it appeared that this was Justine’s state-of-mind the audience was observing…drifting in and out of consciousness, and being consumed by visions of her demise. The most integral scene in part one is when Michael asks to speak privately with Justine and hands her a picture of an apple orchard he bought for her. He explains that this orchard is a place for her to deal with her sadness (depression). Knowing von Trier’s obsession with symbolism, the apple orchard most likely is symbolic of the garden of Eden from Genesis Chapter 2where Adam and Eve eat the forbidden fruit (an apple) from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil which some Christian denominations believe led to the fall of man corrupting the entire natural world to be born with evil. Von Trier was raised Catholic and found out on his mother’s death bed, that his biological father was not the Catholic man who raise him, but a Jewish man his mother had a brief affair with. In the press conference in Cannes for Melancholia, von Trier made very off putting remarks declaring “I’m a Nazi” and “I understand Hitler”. The board of directors condemned von Trier’s comments and declared him persona non grata at the Festival de Cannes. Growing up thinking he was a German Catholic when he was actually Jewish must have really shaken up his identity which I hope is the reason he made such absurd inexcusable comments during that press conference. The scene in part one where Justine rejects the apple orchard was very heavy in the context of the fall of man, and furthering this scene she does not consummate her marriage, which shows a rejection of these values (perhaps much the same way von Trier felt while working on this film?)

Part Two-Claire: Part two opens to Claire looking out the window, troubled by Melancholia, the planet that has been rumoured “on the net” to hit earth. Justine arrives back to the estate disoriented, exhausted and severely depressed. Justine is zombie-like at this point in the film. Even though Justine is being cared for by her elder sister Claire, it begins to become apparent that Claire too suffers from mental issues, surrounding anxiety. As a result of her issues Claire’s husband keeps the reality of Melancholia destroying earth from her until it becomes inevitable. He seemed very romantic up until he kills himself with her pills. Claire tries to cover John’s death so her young son doesn’t find out, then discuss’ with Justine how to spend their final moments together. Claire suggests having a glass of wine together on the terrace. Justine’s reaction to that suggestion was one of haste and replies sarcastically that they should also listen to music, and it should be Beethoven’s 9th Symphony (aka. Ode to Joy). Justine’s suggestion unravels another layer to this whole “Nazi” scandal surrounding this film, especially because Beethoven’s 9th was a favourite of the Third Reich, and became an anthem in Germany as well as other parts of Europe during the Cold War, which is the time von Trier was born and was growing up. Historically those were the most dismal times in those countries and it would be ironic to listen to an up tempo joyous song on such an awful occasion. Von Trier’s own struggle with depression seems reflected upon the character of Justine.

Von Trier has been quoted as saying “a film should be like a stone in someones shoe”, this film embodies that quote, and if that is what he sets out to achieve, it is done in this film. Melancholia is definitely not a film for everyone, but starring many recognizable American popular actors whom we have been watching on television and in the cinema for over a decade, the familiarity eases the discomfort slightly.

Special thanks to www.calgarymovies.comPhoto from www.melacholiathemovie.com

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