Thursday, April 19, 2012
SEEING LARS VON TRIER'S MELANCHOLIA
Again, I sit here breathing in stunned awe after a film by Lars von Trier. This one, Melancholia, took hold of me by the throat like an earlier one, Anti-Christ, that went way deep into the individual psyche, sparing nothing. Melancholia goes all the way deep, too. It goes all the way to the soul. I can't say it is disturbing, because it is not. It is provoking. It provoked me to face it that I am the same as watching a planet of death (my own) approach the earth, living day to day. Certain death is a moment in the future. The story was written by von Trier, and very, very well written. I found myself thinking of Harold Pinter quite often, not in the long silences and pauses so much, but the brief, significant moments between characters that tell stories in themselves. Director von Trier is a deep-psyche diver; he swims in the depths of the human psyche. In Melancholia, we pay close attention to the four people, 2 of them sisters, the blond, Kirstin Dunst, speaks English with an American accent and the brunette sister, Charlotte Gainsbourg, speaks with an English accent. This was a surely dramatic expression of the differences between them in the development of their characters interacting as sisters.
The story begins with a big cast of characters at a high dollar wedding, presumably somewhere in Denmark, possibly on the eastern coast north or south of Copenhagen, a golf course, a mansion-sized house on the edge of the course looking to the sea. Horse stables. The place gives me the impression that it is a country club used in the film for a private residence, a portion of it, and it being so huge it stays active as a lodging, an expensive hotel, grand rooms of times past. Wedding ceremony, big catering, bride and groom 2 hours late for the wedding party. Drinking. Shit happens. Family dysfunctions erupt. Turns out Justine, the blond, has a bad case of depression, of melancholia that carries her away as the story progresses. The name of the planet approaching earth is Melancholia. It's moving at 60,000 mph toward a direct hit. This planet rapidly approaching appears the size of a star, then the size of the moon over the course of a few days, then bigger than the moon and bigger every day. It rose and set like the moon, bigger each time. The planet Melancholia looked to be about the size of Jupiter in relation to earth.The cosmic ball of earth penetrated the planet like a baseball into a catcher's mit. That's it cat shit.
At the same time that Justine, Kirstin Dunst, falls into her deep depression, she is feeling energies from the earth she can't explain; the horses feel the energies. Brief hail storm. Brief snow storm. Electrical charges rising from power poles, eerie feeling of a large brooding presence looming bigger every day in the sky. The family living their lives that we're watching are under a dark brooding cloud like what I feel in Chinese novels, the dark cloud of Mao's whims covering the whole country like a slate gray cloud. That cloud is especially palpable in Gao Xingjian's novel, One Man's Bible, a tension running through everybody. As the planet approaches in a matter of days, like over the period of a week, the people become hysterical in helpless, inner ways, keeping their lives going on hoping it would be a "fly-by." When it became apparent it was not a fly-by, but headed this way and will gobble us up in a matter of hours, no longer in days, growing bigger and bigger in the sky, things change.
Clare, Charlotte Gainsbrough, who is the sister with the stable mind, stable life, breaks down under the strain of knowing the planets will indeed collide. In one minute all human concerns over time through civilization and all the millennia of animal life and ocean life are over as if none of it had ever been. Not even a grave marker in the universe. The immensity of the certainty near at hand took the characters into inner places they didn't know they had. Justine, the depressed, unstable one with some psychic sense, became calm, in control as the crash approached. Kiefer Sutherland, husband of Clare the stable sister, the one who kept up with what the scientists were saying, the one who held it together while the others were falling apart, couldn't handle it. He took a handful of pills when collision became a certainty. It was in that time when it passed into certainty the characters reversed their roles; the unstable became stable and the stable ones in control went out of control. Justine went with bliss running through her whole body and Clare tied in knots of agony, the reverse of how they'd been before.
Like every film I've seen by von Trier, this one takes the viewer to the extremity of what the human psyche can handle. He is a brave man. A kind of spelunker of the mind. He can swim through underground rivers. I think of the adventure writer John Long in that regard. Where Long can go on the crust of the earth, von Trier can go in the mind, those deep, dangerous places not many can handle. The film was not made for boxoffice, but like Bergman films, they do so well it doesn't matter. Brilliant films simply as films. I've watched Melancholia twice and will keep it over another day to see it tomorrow, too. I saw so much in the second viewing that I'd missed the first time, it was like I'd missed half the movie. The third viewing will reveal even more. It is nothing but exquisitely beautiful in every shot from start to finish, a characteristic of a von Trier film. This film seems to me it must have touched an apex of some kind in film making. When the planets touched, end of movie. This is even worse than the burning of the library in Alexandria, Egypt, that wiped out a huge number of the classical texts from Greece. This snuffed all of human history, all of earth history. The same as catching a bullet in the heart. No more future. Unforgettable film. Unforgettable like Woman In The Dunes. It makes me want to give myself a von Trier film festival over the next weeks.