We decided to go see a movie last night, and we picked "Melancholia". Yes, while most people were out trying to spend the first day of the new year in a happy way, we decided to go witness an existentialist drama about the obliteration of our entire planet as we know it. To exist or not to exist - that is the question you keep asking yourself throughout the film.
Melancholia is yet another existentialist story from yet another existentialist Dane, filmmaker Lars Von Trier. The father of existentialism himself, Søren Kierkegard, must be proud of his fellow countryman. I don't know what it is about the Danes and their existentialist ways, but I feel I must disclose that I am an admirer of Mr. Kierkegaard and his groundbreaking philosophy.
Now, you would think that after watching the trailer of Melancholia, I would begin to agree with that guy in Hamlet who said, "there's something rotten in Denmark." But, nooo. Existentialism sucks me in, yet again. The tragic spirit of the Prince of Denmark himself could have easily been spotted anywhere in the painfully long wedding scene in Melancholia, early in the story. Appropriately set in a castle, modern day notwithstanding, Hamlet could have waltzed into the upper crust event, like the guy from Quantum Leap.
The wedding party itself is fraught with all the aristocratic dysfunction that would have made the prince feel at home. Following the surreal toasts from the father of the bride, who was a spoon short of a proper table setting, and the mother of the bride, who ended her toast with the ever so popular at weddings, "Enjoy it while it lasts... I myself hate marriages", Hamlet could have provided the coup de grâce of the evening with his famous soliloquy "To be, or not to be". All the while the beautiful bride Justine, sensually played by Kirsten Dunst, keeps exiting the reception, stage left, pursued by the mother of all Armageddons.
If I were to take two good stories in their own right: Mike Cahill's film Another Earth (also released in 2011), and Arthur C. Clarke's book The Hammer of God (1993), then slow-cook them together, I would end up with Melancholia. Presto, and that would have actually made a fine dish. What almost spoiled the taste was a dash of that bitter existentialism from a story like The Tree of Life (2011). Fortunately, it was just a dash, not enough to ruin the whole meal. At its heart, I actually liked Melancholia. Von Trier might have considered a dash less of the dragging and drawn-out moments to hypnotize us into submission, but hey, it's his story and he's sticking to it.
To Mr. Von Trier's credit, I do believe he ultimately succeed in artistically paying tribute to Kierkegaard's genius, whether he intended it or not. That is especially evident if you consider one of the philosopher's great quotes:
“The most painful state of being is remembering the future, particularly the one you'll never have.”
jy - Jan. 2, 2012