November 21, 2011 § 2 Comments
“Melancholia” is a story in two sections, about two sisters and two planets. The sisters are Justine (Dunst) and Claire (Gainsbourg), whose names are also given to the film’s sections.
Trier plays with our expectations for these actresses: Justine, played by a Hollywood star, is the blonde and conventionally beautiful one, marrying a fittingly handsome guy (Alexander Skarsgård) at her brother-in-law’s ostentatious country estate. But instead of being normal and well-adjusted, she is battling a crippling depression and keeps trying to escape from the whole wedding and from Skarsgård’s character, who’s totally out of his depth and has no idea how to reach her. In perhaps the most bitterly comic scene of “Justine” (and there are many), he shows her a snapshot of the apple orchard he has bought for her, that he hopes will make her happy. He has the best possible intentions, but you can feel her visibly recoiling from him as the seconds pass: I married this guy! And he has no idea who I am! When she gets up to go, she leaves the crumpled picture on the sofa.
It’s Claire, played by an eccentric art-house brunette, who is the conventional one trying to hold the wedding together as it disintegrates into hostility and pathology. She makes meat loaf, something I’m not too sure Charlotte Gainsbourg does in real life. She’s married to a rich man (Kiefer Sutherland, as always awesome at playing an intolerable asshole) who owns the Swedish castle where the wedding takes place, and is inordinately fond of its 18-hole golf course. (We also see the 19th hole a couple of times, which at many golf clubs is a euphemism for the bar, and here is –what, exactly? A joke? A symbol of apocalypse?)
“Claire” is harder to watch because we know how it’s going to end, but then, we know how our lives will end and that doesn’t stop us from wanting to live them.
It’s about facing life and death and mental illness with as much courage and love as you could muster, and what could be more grand and romantic than that?