May 20, 2022

Lars Von Trier and the meaning of existence: A ‘Melancholic’ fairytale.

So let’s begin with a wedding shall we? Let’s kick things off with the joining in matrimony of two seemingly affluent and beautiful persons, bound unequivocally by their unconditional love for one another.

Let’s set this most perfect of occasions in an equally beautiful location; a Swedish Manor House, its grounds tended to, trimmed and neatened to perfection. Let’s have grandeur, romance and etiquette. Let’s have warm, inviting light. Follow me to the garden and let’s have Chinese lanterns for Pete’s sake! Let’s have immaculate attire, music (not to mention food and drink!) and above all, happiness. For these two persons should live happily ever after, shouldn’t they? After the wedding comes a lifetime of happiness. Happiness so potent and perfect in fact, that we needn’t know anything of it. This is where most fairytales end.

And yet from the outset of this story something simmers and ripples, disturbing the surface tension of our fairytale wedding reception.

Justine (Kirsten Dunst) is our blushing bride. Michael (Alexander Skarsgard) is the newlywed husband; heart-breakingly attentive and willing to do anything for his new wife, it’s not long before we notice any unconditional love on his part starts to become darkly synonymous with that horrid unrequited kind.

Justine’s sister, the dedicated, strong willed mother Claire (Charlotte Gainbourg) and her husband, wealthy astronomer John (Keifer Sutherland) we soon discover, are the ones responsible for this perfect soirée. Scheduled to the tee and on a very strict time scale, sister and brother-in-law too struggle to control the fickle and almost volatile actions of a somewhat noticeably troubled Justine. A pass on all wedding night intimacy, in favour of sex with a stranger and a heated resignation aimed at her boss Jack (Stellan Skarsgard) added to the mix and the simmering disturbances become waves, battering the perfect Swedish scenery.

Melancholia is a tale of relationships. A tale which challenges the nature of relationship, interaction and human existence under the most final of circumstances; the end of civilisation itself. When a newly discovered planet (Melancholia) threatens to collide with Earth these relationships and a number of personal human traits are brought to the forefront of the story within each of the characters. With frankly spectacular performances from Dunst, Gainsbourg and Sutherland and striking cinematography, this is a piece of cinema which deals remarkably well with the most philosophic and ancient of anthropomorphic queries in a truly unique context.

We’re confronted with a film of two halves set exclusively in and on the grounds of the Manor House. The house itself takes on a wonderfully melancholic transformation of it’s own in the latter chapter. Rooms become intimidatingly empty. Vast amounts of cold light fill hallways. It’s a drastic difference to the ambiance and warmth that the property glowed with just scenes before. An impending threat of such magnitude, as Melancholia imposes, breeds an overwhelming vulnerability and isolation which becomes startlingly mirrored with such use of context.

The first half, as has been explained in some detail, charters the car crash wedding day which comes as a result of Justine’s (apparent) abrupt negligence for her own happiness. The second follows Claire and her relationship with her husband, young son, and a far more mentally unstable Justine, as she arrives to stay with the family. The elegant, beautiful wife and mother from the first chapter becomes a challenged sister, trying to juggle caring for Justine and coping with an evident panic, which grows increasingly noticeable with the inevitable arrival of Melancholia. With constant reassurance from the intrinsically work proud and passionate John that the planet will pass by, Claire’s demons are kept at bay, for a little while at least.

The four characters soon become symbols for a number of universal human characteristics. This begs the question; how would you cope with something you have no comprehension of?

Claire, when her worst fears are realised, becomes beside herself with fear, panic, torment and despair for both herself and her son (who naturally leaks innocence and naivety). She soon becomes the figure of dread we would assume any loving mother would be.

And what becomes of a work proud wealthy astronomer who finds out all his calculations were wrong? Pride quickly relinquishes itself to guilt and mixed with the inevitability of death, John takes the easy way out. Pride can be detrimental to family life.

Let’s finish as we started; with Justine. Our real life Cinderella. The temperamental and unstable beauty becomes a figure of tranquillity and strength with the impending doom, slowly regressing into herself as a new relationship seems to materialise, with Melancholia itself. We are lead to believe throughout the picture, that Justine is a question mark, unable to simply drift with life’s flow. Aside from what is obviously a warped or slightly damaged mentality, there seems to be a very precious and fragile truth hidden in the character’s reasoning. This is never fully justified or explained and as far as I am concerned, it needn’t be. It dawned on me eventually that Dunst embodies a character who understands the nature of relationship more than we are led to believe. Her actions are not to be mistaken as a disregard for loved ones, but as an understanding of herself and the very real fact that we are all, in essence, lonely. I think it’s at this point that an individual can be at peace with the world around them.

So who would you think of? Family, friends, lovers or enemies? What would you think of? A kiss, an embrace or an argument?

There are no fairytales, but there is beauty in everything we do. There are no happy endings, life simply continues until it ends for each and every one of us. What Melancholia provides, really rather magnificently is tender and touchingly intimate; the death of us all and all we know is as close as we can all become to being one.


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