Thursday, November 10, 2011

Melancholia - Movie Review

Melancholia is the new Lars von Trier (written and directed) film.  His films can be really tough to watch and I haven't liked all of them (I reviewed a few in a recent DVD post), but I was actually really looking forward to this.

For better or worse, von Trier is a controversial and polarizing filmmaker.  When he showed Melancholia at Cannes he caused a stir when he said he had some sympathy for Hitler and joked that he was a Nazi.  He's since apologized for saying that, but that's the kind of stuff that wasn't necessarily surprising to people familiar with von Trier.

Another criticism of Lars von Trier has been that he hates America and he's a misogynist.  After watching Melancholia, I think is issue is that he just hates everyone.

In the past, von Trier films have made me borderline depressed, but that's kind of the central theme of this film.  "Melancholia", which is a mental disorder characterized by depression, also doubles as the name of a rogue, super-earth sized planet that is doing a fly-by of Earth.  This is the opening sequence of the movie.

Melancholia opens with a long, dialog-free sequence giving you a metaphoric preview of the story you are about to see.  The sequence ends with a giant planet colliding with Earth.  This sequence is very colorful and beautiful and it reminded me a great deal of the early sequence of Tree of Life.

Obviously, there isn't much suspense to the movie, as the opening sequence pretty much tells you how this is going to end up.  From that point, the movie is a character study and is broken up into two parts.

Part one is called "Justine".  Justine is played by Kirsten Dunst and this sequence follows the events of her wedding day to 'Eric Northman' from True Blood (Alexander Skarsgard).   You meet members of her family, most notably her sister, Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg), and her husband, John (Keifer Sutherland).  The wedding is largely a disaster and it's painful to watch in parts.  Maybe I'm sick person, but I found myself laughing at the events more than a few times.  If this wasn't a von Trier movie, I might have thought this was going to be a dark comedy.  However, in true von Trier form, it continues to get worse.  At one point, John says to to Claire, "Is everyone in your family stark raving mad?"

Again, despite the depressing nature of the part one, I thought there were some funny parts here.  Keifer Sutherland made me laugh a few times.  Maybe I was happy just to see him play a different role than Jack Bauer for a change.  Udo Kier also provides some comic relief as the wedding planner.

Part two, titled "Claire", fast forwards a short time later and shows you that Justine has become extremely depressed.  This part also focuses on the impending fly-by of the planet Melancholia, which is general knowledge at this point and can be seen with the naked eye.  Without revealing too much, you see how each of the remaining characters are handling Justine's depression and their fears about Melancholia's fly-by.

For the guys, part two contains a special bonus: Kirsten Dunst nude!  If you've ever had a thing for her, this is the part of the movie you'll want to watch.  I don't mean to point that out in a way of diminishing her acting though.  Melancholia shows that she's finally matured as an actor and this is easily her best performance.  This is a completely different role for Dunst and I thought she was fantastic.  Based on the early part of her career, I wasn't sure she was ever going to be capable of something like this.

The performances across the board are all great, but this is a great cast and von Trier has always been able to get the most out of them.

I've heard complaints about the improbable physics and science of Melancholia, but I really don't consider this to be a Sci-Fi movie.  It might have the backdrop or underpinnings of one, but again, this is more of a character study about depression and people falling apart.  The science of it really isn't the point and von Trier's films have always been more on the experimental and artsy side.

As with other von Trier films, I kind of felt like crap after watching Melancholia.  However, the more I think about it, the more I get out of it and like it.  It's a hard movie to recommend though.  Despite the initial premise, it's not a Sci-Fi movie and fans of that genre will likely be put off by it.  For the average person, this movie is going to be too dark and depressing, as well.  I wouldn't recommend going out of your way to see this, not that many of you will even have access to a theater that's going to have it playing.  It should be On Demand this weekend though, so if you're ready to watch something dark like this then I'd recommend giving it a shot.

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