07 January 2012

Come to Me My Melancholy Planet

Last night I turned on the TV to watch some of a college football bowl game but instead got an endless series of commercials. I tried again later and this time there was a sideline reporter talking to a representative of the bowl's corporate sponsor who was blathering on about giving back to the community. He was being self serving and spouting pure pablum. I thought then how wonderful it would be if a another planet were to spin out of its orbit and crush the Earth.

I later watched Melancholia for the second time and thought that if people could get together and make this film, which ends with the destruction of the planet, maybe Earth has a chance. I thought also of the sisters, Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) so utterly wonderful in their damage. Two characters so vivid and alive and rich in complexities. Totally compelling.

Justine suffers from severe bouts of melancholia, which happens to be the name of the planet that will destroy Earth. It is a gripping all consuming, luxurious melancholia that renders her variously immobile or prone to rash acts -- like seducing a stranger on her wedding night. Funny that.

There are so many great films with characters who are obsessive, addicted, compulsive, or just plain bats. Simply: people are more interesting that way. Look at those sane folks who are leaders of the United States. The ones who say the right things and spout nonsense about how their greed is for the greater good or how their corporations are "giving back" or who evoke God to justify their decisions as if they were a personal servant of the almighty. These sane people who hate in the name of love and make war in the name of peace and rape and pillage our natural resources and our working poor. They are the death of us all. Their clean and healthy minds are a sickness on humanity. As characters in stories they symbolize evil, as well they should.

But we are drawn to the likes of Scottie in Vertigo (1958), Brandon in Shame, Dan in Half Nelson (2006), Juliette in I Loved You So Long (2008), Travis in Taxi Driver (1976), Elisabeth in Persona (1966) Don in The Lost Weekend (1945). Damaged, scarred people who by their broad actions and extreme behavior illuminate what is it to be a living being on a planet that as a whole encompasses more madness than the mind can cope. How wise they seem, as they reflect or own doubts and confusion. We stare in wonder as they act out in ways we dare not or dare not admit we have. They show us how are faults are what make us human. Just as commercials and corporate sponsors dehumanize.

Melancholia the movie is a masterpiece from a director, Lars Von Trier, who himself seems a damaged soul. It is an Earth bound 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) in its daring, beauty and probe of humanity. Von Trier uses classic art, great music and rapturous cinematography, not to mention brilliant acting, to paint a landscape of human behavior, some of which is in the face of the apocalypse.

The first eight minutes of the film defy description and perhaps understanding. But they are beautiful. The film is great without it. With it Melancholia is transcendent.

Dunst has taken a giant leap from her days as Spiderman's girlfriend and turned in a performance for the ages. She is shocking, repellent, wise and accepting. Gainsbourg is barely a notch below. The first half of the film is named for Justine and it is set on her wedding day. Many movies before have created madcap, sprawling weddings with events going awry. But none with a bride whose mental state is so fragile. No, broken.

The second half of the film is named for Claire. She is the caretaker sister who looks after her broken sibling much to the chagrin of her husband (Kiefer Sutherland). But as the end times approach the two sisters find their roles reversing. Magic. And how great is it to have the destruction of the planet sans faux TV news reports, panicked hordes or crumbling Earthly landmarks. Just a few people. That's all you need anyway. And they are ensconced in an Eden like estate.

This film is exhilarating. The subject matter seems impossible to view a second time but the mastery of the story telling demands it. I saw it twice in three days and immediately pre ordered the DVD. I hope the world has not been destroyed either by a wayward planet or corporate sponsors, until that DVD arrives.

1 comment:

Byron the afro-filmviewer said...

Great write up on an amazing film. I really enjoyed it too. It ended up on my fave films of 2011 list and I have a review on my blog also.