I’m trudging through this grey, woolly yarn. It’s clinging to my legs. It’s really heavy to drag along.
I recently watched the new Lars Van Tier move, MELANCHOLIA. I am one for dramatic and romantic title-age. To deny my immediate rapture with all that is associated with drama and romance would be to deny the very perspective from which I write this piece. Counter-productive.
I’ve wanted to see this movie (nay, FILM), since first reading that Kirsten Dunst had made moves to emerge from her Spider Man 2 hangover. I heard she was caught up in something of Kirsten Dunst-type substance; a project which would obviously and necessarily be called “MELANCHOLIA.”
I love me some ironical, saucy, snaggle tooth grinning and I am not afraid to admit it. I also love me some adjectives, so bear with me, OR JUST DON’T.
A few critics claim this movie is disjointed. They say the first part of the film is indulgent and in conflict with its second part, which is literally an apocalyptic finale.
My critical question is this: since when is a startlingly accurate portrayal of depression, instigated by a chaotic family gathering, catalyzed by a commitment to be married,
antithetic to APOCALYPSE?
Since when is apocalyptic imagery re-imagined, not, itself, indulgent? Who doesn’t want to see the world fall apart? Who actually wants to be stuck at a small family gathering? If the anticlimactic, yet destructive, collision of life as we know it with an unseen “melancholia” is not a perfect metaphor for depression, I don’t know what is. And if a disastrous family event packed to the gills with the theatrics by the raving lunatics that make a family isn’t anxiety inducing, I don’t know what is.
Part 1, Justine
The film’s part 1, called “Justine,” is shot from the point of view of JUSTINE , who is clinically depressed. The second part, called “Claire,” is shot from the point of view of Justine’s sister, CLAIRE, who is clinically anxious. Justine (Dunst) is undone both by the impossible energy required by her wedding gesture and the faith in human connection implied by it. Claire (Gainsbourg) falls victim to throes of anxiety in the face of earth’s impossible end. Justine wades through life… slowing and becoming “STUCK” at the end of it. Claire buzzes about… at the end, becoming undone by the ending, clings to her routines of perpetuation.
Part 1, “Justine,” focuses on Justine’s failed wedding. The disaster of her marriage in the very moment of its conception.
Part 2, Claire
Part 2,”Claire,” focuses on Claire’s failed earth/failed motherhood. The inability of the mother to provide an existence for her son who she has conceived into a dying world.
The two parts, as a whole, compare parallel circumstances. One, part of the whole, being extinguished by the whole, and therefore, by itself. Nature’s way of announcing, HEY YOU, you are over. GIVE UP.
The film as two parts creates an otherwise unachievable dimensionality. Successfully evoking a landscape of dysfunctional familial relations with sisterhood as it’s center piece. Two sisters who are photographic negatives of each other, each with her own illness, and each having created her own framework to hold the arbitrary picture of her life. Complimentary artworks.
Dunst’s character drops the film’s unforgettable pick-up line: “The world is evil. No one will miss it.” Her character is painted as a mad Ophelia, but worse, mad Ophelia the harlot bitch. She is abrupt. Violent. She takes a piss in the middle of a golf course wearing the couture wedding gown paid for by the husband of her sister in the middle of the wedding ceremony she has abandoned. She rips her sister’s efforts of taking care of her, of attempting normalcy, to shreds.
HOWEVER, it should be noted that her character tries frantically to connect in more than a few instances throughout her vignette. She tries with her mother, with her father, with her new husband. These attempts go cruelly unnoticed or misunderstood. The exception is sister Claire who is able to reach Justine consistently, and is, arguably, Justine’s only hope for piecing together the semblance of a life.
Justine’s final effort to connect, to embrace life, occurs near the finale of the movie. It occurs as the empathetic act of building a magic cave to “protect” (soothe) her nephew (Claire’s son) as he is faced with the prospect of his own doom. Instead of focusing on her own thoughts and her own self as she does for much of the movie, as her last act, Justine focuses her energies on the wellbeing of another, just as her sister falls to pieces.
So, to engage the initial question: NO! The film’s tropic use of two juxtaposed parts is essential to its success. The first part of the film is not indulgent, nor is it disjointed from its subsequent sister piece. The second part of the film would not be successful in its singular form. Likening the confusing process by which one human being falls in love with her own destruction and subsequent melancholic collapse to the experience of another human being as witness to the lethargic collision and subsequent end of the universe makes for a resonating comparison. The comparison itself, and perhaps more so the stirring philosophical resonation, is the point.
If you believe art should have purpose, that’s it for this film. It is not a narrative but an exploration of the human psyche. It is a portrait of the self inhabiting a seemingly arbitrary function in the universe, and, in the wake of this realization, the significance of human connection and love, possibly, is laid bare.
Facing the end of the world her sister suggests a plan as to how they should meet the impending apocalypse. It’s a nice enough plan; they will sit on the patio together, drinking wine, and watch in peace as the planet Melancholia approaches. Apparently not. Dunst coldly replies “Do you know what I think of your plan? I think it’s a piece of shit.”