Sunday, November 20, 2011



On seeing Melancholy...

Melancholy will pass us by... such is the prediction of science in Lars Von Trier's stunner of a  film, Melancholia. Following the opening celestial prelude to Melancholia featuring the very music I have been listening to recently and sharing with those close to me, Wagner's wondrous Prelude to Tristan and Isolde, comes what many of us think of as the antidote to sadness, a wedding. Gathered in a grand lodge, complete with eighteen hole golf course, are all the family, friends, and colleagues of the voluptuous bride, Justine. She and her groom arrive late, delayed by the over-sized limo making the ascent to the lodge. Should I write "spoiler alert"? So many things in this film are so foreshadowed that only the dullest of viewers will fail right away to know what is coming. For Von Trier the devil is in the details; and in the details reside his genius and the profound view of life that is his vision.
Suffice it to say that the wedding is not a success. The groom makes a ridiculous, bumbling attempt at a speech, the bride's mother discourses on her contempt for marriage, and the bride herself leaves the bride chamber to fuck a possible future colleague who is voluptuous himself, out on the golf course. The emptiness of money and corporate greed all manage to play their part in the failure of the ceremony.
 Meanwhile Melancholia approaches.
We learn early on that Melancholia is so vast, so substantial, that it has taken the form of a planet, once hidden by the Sun, that is headed straight for the Earth, though most of the reasonable scientists assure everyone that the rogue planet will not impact the Earth, but rather be a near miss. Von Trier is not giving us believable astronomy and clever science fiction here; he is giving us the power of metaphor. The amazing thing is how well it works. What we see in the darkness of the multiplex theater is something far different from what the prisoners in Plato's cave saw, not mere images of images from the empirical world, but rather the archetypes themselves, the very Forms of reality Plato thought invisible.
We see the very real archetype of Melancholy and no, it will not pass us by after all. How do we face the collision? The main characters embody the possibilities. Justine's response is cynicism, or at best, irony, even as she constructs  a cave (Plato's?)to protect them. Her sister swoons with Romanticism and anxiety, sweeping up her innocent, uncomprehending son with her. Her husband gives us nihilism. And Von Trier gives us one of the most philosophical, psychologically penetrating films I've seen in years. Among an audience quiet and horrified by what they were witnessing, my philosophically-minded friend and I found ourselves laughing aloud, repeatedly, at the raw, dark behavior of the multitude of poignant characters, Justine's capitalistic, fascist boss, the cursing of her mother, the outrageous scene of the bride in full gown riding a golf cart over the grounds, catching her dress on the cart, as Tristan and Isolde swelled on the soundtrack. Romanticism warred with cynical irony, over and over, until the final cataclysm of the two sister planets.
If you think film should be about vision, this is the film to see. If you want to be dazzled by metaphor... well, you get the picture.

Jack, 11/20/11

BTW,  Yes, the acting was superb. There is much praise from  the critics, and if that is what you crave, let me suggest:

Or more simply, the NY Times review, well-written at:

And for the most brilliant pan of the film, and I submit, reasons for its brilliance, despite the contempt of old Rex,
Read this after, repeat, after, seeing the film. It is part of the reason we laughed so hard at times viewing the film.

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