Melancholia

I watched “Melancholia” on one of those streaming video websites. This one allowed comments. I have to admit that the predictably resulting sea of inanity determined my viewing to an alarming degree. I kept finding myself helplessly arguing with the comments.

Someone had commented “might as well jst watch part two of the film thats wen it starts to getin intresting.” So I eagerly awaited the second half of the movie, in part because as in all movies with a potential catastrophe, I wanted it to happen. As the planet Melancholia approached, I was filled with a mixture of dread and anticipation--a split melodramatically explored through the movie’s characters. When Part Two rolled around, it didn’t live up to the commenter’s contention.

Part One is a massive failure of a wedding reception; Part Two follows the bride's deep depression and her sister taking care of her. Watching Kristen Dunst’s transformation in the first part from ostensible happiness to agitated depression is more interesting than her journey to destruction in the second part. Perhaps this is because the former feels like consciousness brewing. This is something one prays for after the first non-slow-motion scene in which bride and groom try to maneauver the limo up the country road’s tight curve. For all of their post-marital giddiness and good humor, it is deliciously awkward.

Someone else commented that “this movie will haunt you for days or weeks.” Despite how exasperatingly heavy-handed it is at times, this seems true. It’s only been a day, but it’s hard to purge the image of the giant watery world crashing into our own. What are more memorable, though, are the violently honest outbursts. This is why I enjoyed Part One so thoroughly: The way the wedding reception falls apart is as delightful as it is uncomfortable. The best nasty shards of speech come from the bride Justine’s mother, Gaby (Charlotte Rampling, who has unfortunately limited screen time). At the beginning of the reception there’s a round of obligatory speeches. Gaby stands when she becomes too fed up with Justine's father (John Hurt) and can't keep quiet.

“I don’t believe in weddings,” she announces. “I just have one thing to say: enjoy it while it lasts.”

It's the most unnecessary speech ever, and pointlessly mean. I was charmed to the bone. Her other daughter, Claire, asks her "why did you even bother coming?" When it comes time to cut the cake and Gaby and Justine are missing, Claire's husband John gallantly (not really, he’s just pissed--they’re wasting his precious money he spent on the wedding, which he has so little of) goes up to fetch them.

“Gaby,” he says politely at the door to her bathroom, “I’m sorry to disturb you, but it’s time to cut the cake.” Which is a sitting duck of a sentence.

“I wasn’t there when Justine took her first crap on the potty. I wasn't there when she had her first sexual intercourse. So give me a break please from your fucking rituals.”

This was an even more enjoyably spectacular lack of caring than Justine suddenly pushing a stranger to the ground and fucking him on the eighteen-hole golf course (eighteen, John keeps reminding everyone) that surrounds the mansion, merely because he happened to be there, or her subsequent monologue to her boss: “I hate you and your firm so deeply I couldn’t find the words to describe it. You are a despicable, power-hungry little man, Jack.”

The stranger was hired by Justine's boss to extract a tag line from her (she works in advertising). He proposes to her at the end of the night, and calls the sex they had "good" ("mechanical" would be accurate).

Another comment read: "Brilliant ending. Left me breathless." I thought this meant there was a twist. So I kept expecting that despite all indications to the contrary, including the beginning in which we see Melancholia crash into Earth, that the planet would pass them by anyway. But maybe they'd all kill themselves before that happened, and we could all laugh drily at the cruel irony. The trouble is that from Part One to Part Two, harsh bemusement gives way to fantastical brutality. This is true, too, of the utterances of the melancholic. Justine's black outlook expands from the personal (for example asking her husband "what did you expect?" when he tells her the wedding and their relationship could have gone differently) to the cosmic: "Life on earth is evil. Nobody will miss us." In the same scene she pronounces that she knows we're alone in the universe because "I know things." Deadly seriousness sounds silly, and the consciousness that melancholy has brought sounds like delusion.

Though the commenters on this website have a tendency to laud the movie's profundity if they're not telling us how boring it is, the blatantly metaphoric register that might pass for profundity gets tiresome quickly. By the third time someone repeated that Melancholia (the planet) was “hidden behind the sun,” I wanted it to crash into them, already. Yes, we get it. The planet is called Melancholia, for fuck’s sake.

While the grand metaphors often induced snickers ("it [Melancholia] looks friendly," Claire says wistfully, or how about the "Melancholia and the Dance of Death" diagram that Claire finds on the internet, showing how the planet will pass Earth and then turn around again and crash into it after all), the latter half the movie did terrify me. This is no doubt in part because I was watching it after midnight, and because the previous night I had been kept awake by a mysterious buzzing. It returned at irregular intervals, rattling the window like a subwoofer. Just when I thought it would go away, it came back. In the late hours with no one else to hear it, the unidentified noise gave me similarly apocalyptic feelings as the roaring of Melancholia as it grazes Earth's atmophere. As annoying as Claire is (of course, who isn't in this movie), I sympathized with her complete panic at the prospect of not just dying, but of the whole planet dying. It's the most radical aloneness possible. But Justine knows, I imagine, that we're just as alone already from the day we're born. Because she uh, knows things. The fact that I doubt her knowledge means, I suppose, that I'm attached to life. Or maybe that I'm not as much of an exhibitionist as Lars von Trier.

9 February 2012