Last night I was feeling melancholic…this is rare these days…I am usually a happy ole chap…but I am familiar with the feeling…I have swum in its waters enough in my life to know when my feet are wet. After my family went to sleep I decided to put down my work and look for a movie, and I saw Melancholia had been added to Netflix, and I accidentally engaged in the solution to melancholic emotions which is to enter into them, and let yourself get swept away, in order to find out what is haunting you. It is always risky, but melancholy is made more painful by trying to run from it, as illustrated by this movie.
I am cautious with the films of Lars Von Trier because, as an artist, I am optimistic, and he is a director that investigates aspects of the soul that tend toward fatalism, and although I understand the logic of fatalism, I believe there is a further step one can take in response to meaninglessness, which is to make value-laden choices, if only to have more fun. The alternative, which is to remain in the truth of nihilism, is a kind of value choice, and therefore its own kind of meaning. But this has nothing to do with the film, this is expressing the perspective I bring to his movies. Nonetheless, after seeing Dogville a few years back, I respect him as a person of great depth.
This movie is beautiful and belongs to that minority of films that I will call, for want of a better word, classical. Its images are crisp and stunning and sparse. The casting is perfect. Kirsten Dunst is part of a duo representing 2 aspects of the melancholic perspective with her counterpart Charlotte Gainsbourg…they are both acting at the highest level possible…wow! But I don’t want to talk too much about mechanics…I am not a film guy, I’m an ideas guy. Suffice it to say, that the craftsmanship is as close to flawless as they come. More importantly, this is a work about melancholy, but not as a mood, as I was experiencing it last night, but as a perspective, as a way of seeing reality, and the argument it makes is profoundly convincing, and this will haunt me for some time. I recognized myself in the characters who played more deluded forms of melancholy, and this is Lars Von Trier’s greatest trick in the film…Even though Dunst’s initial narrative has moments of fascinating heroics, that have to do with accepting her melancholic tendencies, much to the dissatisfaction of society, she becomes a ‘straight-man’ to the more nuanced forms represented by the character of her sister, and her tirelessly optimistic brother-in-law. As someone who relishes movies that utilize metaphor to grapple with the universal human condition, I savored the use of a second planet that might, or might not, collide with Earth…and I interpreted this as the world we have built, the mechanized Western Enlightenment coming to grips with itself…I don’t want to push this point too hard, but there is a feeling captured in this film that will be known to everybody trying simply to relate to one another in a world where every human being has a different opinion on the smallest moments of social exchange…it is exhausting, and this exhaustion is made palpable in this film. Simple people might label a movie like this as ‘depressing’, but that is because they lack a range of emotion that makes viewing this film possible. It is not depressing at all, in fact I found it exhilarating precisely because it confronted speech, that medium through which we lie, but do so to hide from our feelings. This movie lays that bare and finds a way around it, but a way known only to ancient Greeks and the Romantics…and that way is catharsis…I cannot think of any other movie that offers such a pure experience of this Greek concept…never have I seen tragedy that convinced me more of the power of love, in its most paradoxical sense. This is a truly great film.