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Melancholia (2011) Movie Poster
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  •  Denmark / Sweden / France / Germany  •    •  135m  •    •  Directed by: Lars von Trier.  •  Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Alexander Skarsgård, Brady Corbet, Cameron Spurr, Charlotte Rampling, Jesper Christensen, John Hurt, Stellan Skarsgård, Udo Kier, Kiefer Sutherland, James Cagnard, Deborah Fronko..
        On the night of her wedding, Justine is struggling to be happy even though it should be the happiest day of her life. It was an extravagant wedding paid for by her sister and brother-in-law who are trying to keep the bride and all the guests in-line. Meanwhile, Melancholia, a blue planet, is hurtling towards the Earth. Claire, Justine's sister, is struggling to maintain composure with fear of the impending disaster.


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Image from: Melancholia (2011)
Image from: Melancholia (2011)
Image from: Melancholia (2011)
Image from: Melancholia (2011)
Image from: Melancholia (2011)
Image from: Melancholia (2011)
Image from: Melancholia (2011)
Image from: Melancholia (2011)
Existentialism 101: Life sucks and then you die, life has no meaning beyond that which you give it, there is no soul, Santa isn't real, the Self is a mechanistically programmed fiction, all desires are borrowed, organised religion is a sham, hard free-will is a myth, chaos reigns, indeterminism does not preclude patterns, God is dead, Tupac is alive, humans are irrational, man tends to be "rational" only within the confines of irrational systems, vegetables are good, overfishing is bad, existential loneliness is an unavoidable condition of humanity, man is both weaker and more powerful than he realises, there is no afterlife, size matters, everybody dies and nobody knows who shot Biggie.

The above is two hundreds years of existentialist philosophy condensed to one paragraph. Above that is the same in one line. Both are also Lars Von Trier's "Melancholia" without the pretence. Set shortly prior to the annihilation of mankind -' Earth is about to collide with a planet called Melancholia (literally destroyed by sadness) -' the film stars Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg as Justine and Claire, two sisters.

"Melancholia's" first act finds Justine on the happiest day of her life. She's at a wedding party with friends, co-workers and family. The luminous star of Antares ("the creator of prosperity") hangs symbolically over her head. Everything is wonderful, until Justine abruptly (and arbitrarily) loses faith in all social constructs. Henceforth she embraces a more dour, existential, even nihilistic view of existence. "The earth is evil," Justine says. Extricating herself from a humanity which she rightly views as shared psychosis, the poor girl hops on a horse, rides off into the night and has sex with a co-worker. After giving the middle finger to family, marriage, the church, her job and various other bourgeois absurdities, Justine slips further into depression. At this point Antares disappears, covered up, one character tells us, by a super-planet called Melancholia. Yes, Lars Von Trier literally has a planet called Happiness blotted out by a planet called Melancholia. Deleted scenes reportedly include the gas giant Xanax and the moon of Prozac.

"Nothing is more modern than total sickness," philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche would write. "The trust in life is gone: life itself has become a problem!" Existentialist Albert Camus would call suicide "the only serious philosophical problem" and Jean-Paul Satre would dub existential depression "the nausea". In "Melancholia", this nausea becomes a giant pulsating planet, Von Trier's metaphor for an all-consuming, at times destructive psychological state.

"Melancholia's" second half sees Justine associated with the natural world, urinating on golf courses, bathing in mud or ensnared by vines. Like Werner Herzog, Von Trier associates philosophical pessimism with a nature that is base and uncaring. Attempting to nurse Justine back to health is Claire, whose husband John views the approaching planet Melancholia with scientific optimism. To John (a parody of those who show irrational faith in science and "progress"), there is wonder, grandeur, even a kind of atheistic spirituality, in what Justine views to be a malevolent universe. Such optimism doesn't last. John succumbs to suicide. Justine, meanwhile, calmly accepts death. Studies themselves show that those who "suffer" from what psychologists call "depressive realism" or "pessimistic realism", tend to cope with death and other extreme situations with calmness and rationality.

"Melancholia" ends with Justine's new-found "spiritualism" imparted unto her sister Claire. As Nietzsche himself once said: "life and love in the face of philosophical awareness are still possible, one just lives and loves differently". The duo thus sit in a tent and await termination with a mixture of serenity, compassion and love. Before this, the duo have a typical atheist vs creationist discussion. "Life after earth?" Claire asks. "There isn't any," Justine says. "How do you know?" Claire challenges. "I know things," Justine quips with atheistic aloofness, "we're alone."

Lars Von Trier's "Melancholia" is sincere -' a recent crisis of faith led to him rejecting religion -' but also bad art. Von Trier treats as being profound discoveries that greater artists tend to figure out and work through in their late teens or early 20s. The existential crises of a fifty year old in the 21st century aren't "profound", just a little obnoxious, especially when dressed up in hokey visuals and blunt metaphors; "Melancholia" looks like a cross between a Sartre lecture and a Lexus commercial, and sounds like remix of Wagner and Lady Gaga. Ironically, Von Trier criticises Justine's early life, but his own aesthetic epitomises the very corporate advertisements she once worked on.

Cinema's great modernists have themselves long pushed beyond "Melancholia's" existential musings, lending "Melancholia" a derivative feel. The film's apocalypse, themes and hysterical women recalls Bergman's "Shame", "Passion", "Through a Glass Darkly, "Winter Light", "Cries and Whispers", Vinterberg's "The Celebration" and Tarkovsky's "Sacrifice". Elsewhere Von Trier cribs his slow motion falling horses from Tarkovsky's "Andrei Rublev", and the "Hunters in the Snow" painting from "Stalker". We then have Dreyer's filmography, Herzog's, Antonioni's ("Red Desert" in particular), Tarr, Bresson, Bunuel or the more pulpy existential movies of Nicholas Ray and Minnelli. Modernism (the old modernist adage, "if nothing matters, everything does") has itself moved past early 20th century existentialism to a giant "so what next?". If God's not saving us, how can we help ourselves and others? Such questions always lead back to social systems, politics, economics, history, cultural values and issues of power, the chief obsessions of late post-war modernists (Godard, Kubrick, Loach, Fassbinder etc). These artists have an unmistakable "existential attitude", yet spend no time mulling about Gods. Most remain unmistakably atheistic, even when dealing with religious longings (Godard's "Hail Mary", Kubrick's "2001", Passolini's "Gospel" etc).

510 -' See "Vanishing on 7th Street" and "Ghost World".

Review by tieman64 from the Internet Movie Database.


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