Monday, January 2, 2012

Melancholia (2011, Lars Von Trier)

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 storyAppropriately 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.

Kierkegaard could have also "quantum leaped" into this Danish tragedy, and would have found himself right at home.  He would have been useful too more than once, as comfort to the brave-but-one-pill-away-from-a-breakdown Claire, Justine's sister.  Though Claire helps Justine unconditionally through her wedding unraveling, Claire herself begins to breakdown eventually, without much relief from her pragmatic-but-useless-in-a-doomsday-scenario husband John.  John is well played by Kiefer Sutherland, and to be fair to his character, he at least delivers a much needed comic relief in the story when he asks Claire, "Is everyone in your family stark raving mad??"

Kierkegaard's existentialist input would have been borderline eerie, in light of the doomsday nature of the story.  It took me a while, but I eventually remembered and dug up an apocalyptic thought by the Danish philosopher, from his work "Either/Or, Part 1".  The lines could have very appropriately been delivered by Kierkegaard to Claire during the film's "Part 2: Claire"
“A fire broke out backstage in a theatre. The clown came out to warn the public; they thought it was a joke and applauded. He repeated it; the acclaim was even greater. I think that's just how the world will come to an end: to general applause from wits who believe it's a joke.” (SK, 1843)

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 dishWhat 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

Film Trailer:

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