The Reel Deal
A Reel Deal Film Review
Film Insight by Tyler Malone
Reel Rating: 5 out of 5
Charles Baudelaire once wrote, “I can barely conceive of a type of beauty in which there is no melancholy.” Lars Von Trier’s new film Melancholia is certainly a beauty awash in melancholy. I could see why some might find it difficult to watch–it is over two hours, relatively slow-moving and a rather negative depiction of us as humans and of our supposedly evil planet–yet it is so beautiful and smart and funny (in addition to being misanthropic and terrifying) that there wasn’t a moment that passed that I wasn’t enthralled with the goings-on on screen.
Melancholia is one of the most beautiful movies I’ve seen in quite a while; it is the perfect companion piece to Terence Mallick’s equally beautiful Tree of Life from earlier this year (Mallick’s movie depicting quite literally the beginning of the universe, the big bang, and Von Trier’s movie showing an improbable but nonetheless compelling look at the destruction of our planet, both bookending existence, and both hanging in that balance between grace and nature). But Von Trier’s picture of the world is infinitely more sinister. “The Earth is evil. We don’t need to grieve for it. Nobody will miss it,” is not a line you’d find in Tree of Life, but it feels right at home in Von Trier’s bleak and melancholy vision of our universe, our world and our place within it. It is an unflinching look at the anomaly of existence, and its tendency to careen towards inevitable decay and destruction. In a way, it is a filmic expression of the second law of thermodynamics, of entropy.
In another way it is also a filmic expression of Nazi aesthetics. Von Trier got in trouble earlier this year for mentioning Hitler at Cannes, in an odd, jokey manner. He forgot that one should never mention the Nazis in France, their wounds over the occupation are still raw. So he was ousted from the film festival, though his movie was still shown (and was awarded best actress to Kirsten Dunst); but I believe it could have beaten out Tree of Life for the Palme d’Or had Von Trier just kept his mouth shut. But why should he keep his mouth shut? After all, he wasn’t making a third rate Third Reich joke for no reason–he was actually trying to make a point about the film he was promoting (even if the point was lost in his incoherence). That point, I think, is that Melancholia, in its way, is a darkly comedic extension of German Romanticism and a subverted example of an attempt at Wagnerian Gesamtkunstwerk. It is not a Nazi film in that it glorifies Nazis, but that it is an intentional invocation of the Nazi aesthetic.
Understandably, Melancholia is not for those who only go to the cinema for something uplifting, even though it is, as Von Trier explained in Cannes, meant to be a comedy rather than a tragedy. You should certainly stay away if you like things to be light, for this is a film of darkness–beautiful darkness, but darkness nonetheless. But if you can handle a movie about depression, about evil, about destruction, about chaos, about entropy, check out this melancholy beauty. It’s the anti-Michael Bay, anti-Roland Emmerich, disaster film, for here the disaster isn’t averted or avoided or survived, here the disaster must be stared at in the face (or through the telescope) and accepted on its own terms as an inevitability; and, even more so, what makes this film so unique: here the disaster is the world itself (as much as its destruction).
Melancholia is a film written and directed by Lars von Trier. It stars Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Kiefer Sutherland. Two sisters find their already strained relationship challenged as a mysterious new planet threatens to collide into the Earth.
Written by Tyler Malone
Photography Courtesy of Zentropa
Design by Jillian Mercado
Press Photo from Melancholia, Photography Courtesy of Zentropa