Melancholia (TheByteScene Review)

4-Horribly-miscast-rogue-planets-that-would-only-end-life-on-Earth-and-not-the-planet-itself out of 4

Leaving the MOMA theatre after watching this film for the first time, I tried to explain to a critic why the film’s science was wildly inaccurate. Using basic logic regarding how gravity works, and how large masses react when they’re near each other, I said that Melancholia, the large planet that’s seemingly destined to collide with Earth in Lars Von Trier’s latest creation, should have taken out most of the farthest planets in our Solar System before even coming close to approaching Earth. My companion took my work for it, and as I ended my brief lecture, we returned to discussing the merits and demerits of the movie we had just seen. We both agreed that, while the science may have been wonky (at best), it was still a film worth watching.

A few nights ago, the subject of Melancholia opened itself, though with slightly differing results. This time, the science was understood, though the opinion was that Melancholia wouldn’t have hit any of the planets in out Solar System, going so far as to say that it would barely hit Earth. It was agreed, however, that the rogue planet would have made Earth nigh unlivable, assuming that every organism on the planet (except for a few very notable exceptions) wasn’t eliminated in the process. It was late in the evening, and neither of us were willing to produce calculations to prove our points (or look up the Encyclopedia Britannica for evidence) so the science was left alone, and the analysis of the film from an artistic point-of-view continued. Incidentally, the film’s merits were also disagreed on, and this time the conclusion was that the film was not worth watching. I maintained my position on the former.

I suppose the point of this needless exposition is that Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia is grossly inaccurate from a scientific standpoint, and should anyone attempt to watch the movie with a keen eye for physics, chemistry, and biology (and all of their deviations), they will be sorely disappointed. Ironically, while the massive blue planet Melancholia is one of the film’s chief players, its role is horribly miscast as the bringer of the Earth’s destruction since it’s really only the bringer of life’s destruction, though I do digress. The film is scientifically inaccurate, but I loved it to the point of saying that it is my new favourite film (a distinction, of sorts); the plot is brilliant, the characters are well developed, their motivations are clear, the tensions are reasonable, and the reactions are mesmerizing. I’d talk about editing, sounds, and special effects, but apart from the planet actually crashing into Earth, there aren’t any; sound’s even more of a conundrum, as the only score the movie has is a single suite lifted from Richard Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde.

Apart from these minor edits, that occur during the beginning and end of the film (the beginning of the film is, quite literally, the end of both the planet and the film, which explains why I’ve entirely ruined the plot), so the audience knows what’s to occur. As viewers of the film, the information is presented immediately: the world is going to end, and this is how these characters are to react. That is, in essence, the point of the film, to watch the breakdown of these characters as each scene unfolds, and to try to understand what could motivate them to act in such a way. What’s interesting is that psychological illness is present throughout the entire film, and the origins of these possibilities are never discussed. Kirsten Dunst’s character, the younger of two sisters, Justine is to be betrothed during the film’s first part, yet it’s evident that this is, in no way, an appropriate action.

There’s a feeling of instability that floats around Justine, and all the secondary characters, including her mother, father, boss, potential coworker, and fiance (and future husband) only contribute to that. It’s clear that each character suffers from equal amounts of instability, but Justine’s is the most important; everyone wants Justine to be happy and, as such, everyone strives to make her happy. Ironically, and in one of the most blatant ways, they only make things worse; her parents are divorced and her father has a penchant for fruitless affairs with dramatically younger women (who somehow share the same name as his youngest daughter), her mother is a sardonic alcoholic whose views on love are both opposing and, presumably, inspired by her ex-husband’s personality, and her boss is seemingly hell bent on extracting a single line for an advertising campaign. Not to mention Justine’s older sister is frail and weak, who seems to both relish and despise her role in the former’s life, while her fiance is weak-willed and cowardly. The mere act of delivering a wedding toast renders him almost speechless, and its clear that his reasons for being with Justine are almost nonexistent. It’s not a matter of there being no love, its a matter of there being nothing at all.

Melancholia seems to work on this state of nothingness; it’s obvious that something is horribly wrong with every character, but there’s really nothing there at all. Justine suffers from mental instability, but there’s nothing to work with, even when she experiences a drought of depression in the second (and final) part of the film. At this point, Claire, the older, takes centre stage, and Melancholia as the planet (and not the term) becomes an emphasis. It’s revealed to the audience that Claire’s husband is an astrobuff, and while he may or may not have connections to the scientific community, he is independently wealthy. Kiefer Sutherland’s portrayal of John is interesting; it’s clear that he loves his wife, but can’t stand her family. During the film’s first half, he attempts to throw his mother-in-law out of the wedding reception for being a bigger nuisance than her youngest daughter. It’s perhaps the only scene in the film that’s both hilarious and heart-breaking, let alone humourous. John is, also, the only character who breaks the monochromatic nothingness by having something; he is confident, intelligent, and brimming with presence. Again, he loves wife, but can’t stand her family, and while he objects to having Justine stay in the home he shares with his wife and son, he accepts it as an “Only for the moment” event.

I suppose the most important character is Melancholia itself, though it’s difficult to classify it as the protagonist; it’s clear that Justine’s choices affect the film, and the film does revolve around her and her needs. This doesn’t change the fact that Justine’s personality changes as Melancholia approaches its perilous destination. As The End approaches, Justine shows signs of growth and healthy; she was introduced as being unstable, broke down off-screen, remained broken, and as Melancholia comes closer to Earth, she fixes herself. Justine is remarkable to watch, since the second part of the film has her in an even weaker and frailer position than her older sister; she can barely walk without the aid of anyone else, and is bedridden for what seems to be days, if not weeks. She does, in every sense of the word, get better, and while her psychology is still fragmented and beyond regular limits, she becomes a pillar of stability for both Claire, John, and their son.

However, science becomes an issue at this point; John and his son track Melancholia’s path while Claire surfs the internet for fringe sites warning of impending doom. John and his son disagree, and the film’s second part has the husband comforting his wife repeatedly, which makes his death, and her eventual breakdown all the more exhausting to experience. The audience knows what will happen, and if one were to miss the first ten minutes, they’d know what should happen regardless. It’s a planet almost twice the size of Earth that’s supposedly going to veer around the blue marble but never touch it.

At one point, it will to be about the size of Earth, from our night’s sky. This planet isn’t expected to damage anything. Instead, it will, once again, pass by harmlessly, doing nothing but producing “Strange weather conditions.” The expectations are ghastly, and the fact that the accepted belief is that nothing will happen is difficult to rationally accept. However, yet again, science isn’t the focal point, and even though one will find themselves trying to understand why the physicists on Melancholia’s Earth would ever think in certain ways, disbelief has to be suspended when watching science poke its head.

Regardless of these scientific shortcomings, I loved the movie for what it was: a breakdown of the human psyche in every sense of the word. The characters made this film, and while Melancholia’s name only appeared as reference in the film’s credits, it truly does take centre stage as one of the cast.

As always, this has been your Admin, the Avid Blogger; comment, subscribe, and criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

-EK

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