MARCH 31, 2012

“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.”

—Thomas Merton, Author

As I sat by myself in the packed Nuart Theater in Santa Monica following the end of “Melancholia,” two striking things occurred to me. First of all, almost everyone in the audience (primarily college-aged young adults) was dumbfounded: “this wasn’t the thrilling drama I expected,” and “what were Kirsten Dunst and True Blood’s Alexander Skarsgård doing in this film.” At one point, a young woman in front of me turned to her companion and asked, “what did you bring me to?” The second thing I realized after the film was that Melancholia was a hauntingly beautiful masterpiece and one of the best films I had seen that year, creating a gulf between me and most of those sitting in the theater around me.

“Melancholia” is an artistic film, which probably turns most audiences off, the same audiences not wanting to be depressed while watching a movie. Most people attend the theater for escapism, not looking to be reminded of the utter destruction we could face in our futures. Unfortunately, that is what the plot of “Melancholia” does. Set around a planet called Melancholia, headed in the earth’s direction, it brings to light what little time we may have on the ground and how one rogue planet could end us all. Lars von Trier makes his intentions clear within the first scenes, not wanting the audience to be caught in the suspense and mystery of the eventual outcome and to focus solely on his characters and their emotions during the crisis.

Kirsten Dunst reaches a turning point in her career with “Melancholia.” Her performance is unlike anything she has delivered before, and as one of the main characters, she carries the film masterfully. Dunst plays Justine, the sister getting married at the film’s start. Quite the wild child compared to her sister, Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg), Justine lives in her world and battles her depression even on what should be her happiest day. Dunst holds nothing back in her role, and it shows, even enough to get her the Best Actress Award at the Cannes Film Festival. She transforms herself from the lovable, uber-sexy bride to the deeply depressed and deeply disturbed sister that cannot eat but spews hate toward her lovingly naive sister. This performance should launch her career in new and bright futures, depending on where she decides to take off next.

Unlike some of Lars von Trier’s previous work, “Melancholia” is much more accessible. Along the lines of Terrence Malick’s “The Tree Of Life” from 2011, von Trier dares to delve into exquisite visuals to tell his story. Though much more coherent and with much more story thread than “The Tree Of Life,” “Melancholia” takes a much more artistic approach than an experimental one. The highlight of the vision includes the slow motion photography at the beginning of the film, which sets the tone for the entire experience, simultaneously projecting like moving paintings, both haunting and gorgeous. Top that off with the ethereal and overwhelming orchestrated score, and you get one of the most memorable films of 2011.

As stated earlier, “Melancholia” is art. And as with most art: a) you either get it or you don’t, and b) there is a large pool of people that do not care for art. However, those who care for the art of film know what “Melancholia” embodies. It is a visceral experience, leaving chills and revelations past the credits. There is an intensity brought on from the film’s conclusion and a full circle ending that causes multiple viewings (which I did at the start of the year at the Fargo Theater with a much more gracious crowd).

November 11, 2011

Lars von Trier

Lars von Trier

Magnolia Pictures

(for some graphic nudity,sexual content and language)

135 minutes

Manuel Alberto Claro

Mikkel Maltha

Molly Malene Stensgaard

Kirsten Dunst
Charlotte Gainsbourg
Alexander Skarsgård
Brady Corbet
Cameron Spurr
Charlotte Rampling
Jesper Christensen
John Hurt
Stellan Skarsgård
Udo Kier
Kiefer Sutherland

Meta Louise Foldager
Louise Vesth

$9.4 million

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