...and it's a symbol for melancholia.
I’m going to have to come out and admit upfront that I was disappointed by it. I was expecting more from Lars von Trier. This one plays it almost too safe, which is why I think that so many critics who previously have trashed LVT have got on board. It’s beautiful and meditative, the worst that happens is what has been guaranteed by the beginning, there’s no clit snipping, no controversial moral claims, nothing too crazy, nothing too explicitly anti-American. It’s about depression, and it’s a disaster movie. Simple enough for most critics. But not what I'd come to expect from LVT. It's just too tepid throughout most of it.
(Question: Can a depression movie ever be well done without making you hate the character(s) who are depressed?)
The prologue is genuinely terrific. Beautiful, cryptic, and haunting. Anytime there was a scene recalling the prologue or recreating parts of it (the music with dramatic shots of the sky or the planet in the distance) I was interested. But I suspect mostly because it recalled 2001 and THE TREE OF LIFE. There is much style to this picture. A style that LVT seems to be harnessing from the similarly beautiful ANTICHRIST. But there isn’t too much else beyond this.
I have no problem with the film’s bleakness. Anyone who knows me should know that I’m a sucker for anything nihilistic and...hmmm...what’s the word....oh yes, melancholic. I didn’t really find the film all that depressing or bleak. Sure, nothing good happens, ever. But I was expecting a more intense experience. If I’m gonna be swimming in bleakness, then dunk me in the deep end. Shock and surprise me a little bit. Get my blood pumping. SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK is a film that sinks you down deep into the mire so much so that it takes on an incredible beauty of its own. This is just riding the surface.
I guess one major problem is that I wasn’t really engaged. I didn’t care about any of the characters–at all (are we supposed to care?). The opening act with Justine’s wedding actually bored me a bit. It reminded me too much of RACHEL GETTING MARRIED. The second act is much better because at least with it we are able to anticipate the disaster coming instead of just wallowing in Justine’s depression. There’s a great moment in act two where Justine is laying naked (yep that’s great in itself but there’s more!) with the image of Melancholia floating above her. That’s the LVT I love. Making her fascination with this impending disaster sexually stimulating. I can almost see her laying there yelling “Let Melancholia fuck you! Let Melancholia fuck you!” It’s an interesting moment, but it is all too short. That hint of something more interesting going on is often there in MELANCHOLIA, but it rarely comes to fruition.
There was nothing that really shocked or excited me in any real way. This is likely a result of feeling emotionally distant from the characters. Certainly, MELANCHOLIA is beautiful, well-made, and better than most fare you will find around (If you want to see a modern disaster picture, this is easily a better bet than the latest Roland Emmerich apoco-porn). And it’s depressing–but who cares? I’ve been more depressed and more intrigued by LVT’s other films because they at least challenged or excitied me into caring. This just didn’t engage me.
However, I remain a believer in Lars von Trier. I’m a big fan. I think he’s at his best when he’s being a mixture of super creative, provocative, and urgent. MELANCHOLIA isn’t really any of those three for the most part of it. But I have faith in him for next time. He’s worked through his depression movie, got it out of his system, now he can move on to the tactfully titled THE NYMPHOMANIC. Hopefully that fucks MELANCHOLIA to death.