“I’m trudging through this gray woolly yarn . . .” Justine tells her sister Claire. Justine is a twenty-something woman who suffers from severe depression. “Melancholia,” a 2011 film, was written and directed Lars von Trier. Von Trier is a Danish filmmaker (Dancer in the Dark) whose idea of a good yarn is the flip-side of what Disney churns out. Disney makes feel-good/think-less product while von Trier makes feel-miserable/think-alot art films. After a series of strange slow-motion images where we see Dunst seeming to flee, then stop, stop, then flee, the movie shifts from neutral into low gear where it seems stuck for the length of the film. It’s not exactly like watching paint dry–I wish it were that easy. The narrative begins with Justine’s wedding. There’s an uncomfortable tension that made me want to head for the nearest exit. We watch as Justine checks off names on her insult/alienate to-do list–all learned at the sharp knee of her toxic cold-eyed mother (Charlotte Rampling) with a little help from the passive-aggressive dad (John Hurt). As we watch, we shake our heads, wondering why long-suffering sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsburg) and Claire’s ultra-rich, exasperated husband Jack (Kiefer Sutherland) put up with the little darling. Justine insults her boss (Stellan Skarsgard) a nasty man, but one who just promoted her. She skips out on the after-wedding main-event where the bewildered groom (Alex Skarsgard) sits on the bed in his white shirt and underwear. She tells him to “give her a moment” then makes straight for the golf-course (it’s night) where she practically rapes a wedding guest. The groom takes that as a sign things aren’t going to work and stomps out.
One more thing–the world is going to end. There’s a planet on a collision course with earth. We know this from the opening images accompanied by lots of somber music (I wonder if von Trier and Terrance Mallick swap ideas and tunes). The planet is called Melancholia and all the heavy-duty scientists, Jack assures Claire say it’s going to pass us by. Right. In the meantime, Justine goes from bad to worse and Claire decides she needs a sister’s care. This was the only time the movie connected for me. Depression is a serious, painful, often disabling illness and Dunst conveys this in her performance. Because she is virtually catatonic, I kept wondering why she wasn’t in a hospital and why Claire would expose her small son to Dunst’s unstable behavior.
As it dawns on Claire that Jack is wrong and Melancholia is going to collide with the earth, Justine gets better. Misery loves company, I guess. Justine tells Claire that she’s known all along the world was going to end because she “knows things” like how many beans there were in the “guess how many beans in the jar” game that was a party game at the wedding from hell. Life as a concept is bad according to Justine; when comes to life in the universe–we on earth are all there is and the universe is going to correct its mistake. Despite the theatricality of the ending, I wasn’t moved. I’m sure a lot of people were–mostly critics from what I’ve read. Regardless, this film wasn’t my cup of tea. When it comes to deep thought, I like to down it with a spoon full of sugar. Melancholia, deeply profound as some might find it was pure caster oil.