My review of Von Trier’s MELANCHOLIA: depression is a glowing blue planet

{Below is the text of the spoken review}

I want to like the films of Lars Von Trier more than I do. I admire that he has a singular vision, and that he has the audacity to disturb his audience. His work is difficult and he explores the darkest reaches of the human experience. But there is always something about his work that irritates me, that stops me from fully embracing his work.

I saw MELANCHOLIA last night. It’s an intensely personal meditation on Depression and self destruction. Justine’s descent into a depression is beautifully realized, and I would tell anyone who doesn’t believe Depression is a genuine medical condition to look at the first part of the film. The actress Kirsten Dunst portrays Justine’s pain as physical (which Depression can be) as well as mental. Her face mimics joy, but she’s really a husk inside, a tangle of psychic scars. The second part of the movie, about the destruction of the earth, isn’t as strong. Firstly, because the narrative shifts its focus from Justine to her sister Claire. The scenes that show Justine’s reactions are more powerful. She seems to embrace the end of the world. There’s a scene where she bathes naked in the spectral blue glow of the planet Melancholia that is just gorgeous.

The second part of the movie also has all of the features that annoy me about Von Trier’s work. His characters act in ways that don’t make sense. When Kiefer Sutherland’s character kills himself, it comes out of left-field. This sudden out of character behavior is a hallmark of his films. In DANCER IN THE DARK, Selma murders a man—out of left field. In DOGVILLE, Nicole Kidman’s character goes from being unbelievably passive (getting raped by an entire village!!!!) to committing genocide. The writer in me sees that as lazy, if not bad writing. Mood whiplash is one thing. Character arc whiplash is another.

To me, MELANCHOLIA is half of a masterpiece. He should really hire a script doctor (me!) for his next outing.

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