Lars Von Trier – Melancholia
Scandinavian filmmaker Lars Von Trier, Michael Brook once described as the most ambitious and visually distinctive filmmaker to emerge from Denmark since Carl Theodor Dreyer. Over 90 nominations and 93 wins including awards for best director and best films, Von Trier does not fall short of being considered one of the best filmmakers of our time spanning over four decades.(1) Born in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1956 he graduated from the Danish Film school in 1983 Von Trier gained a lot of attention winning best film at the Munich Film Festival for ‘Images and Liberation’.(2) Von Trier has been further recognized for his political and humanitarian work, with the ‘Cinema of Peace’ award in 2004.(4)
Since then Von Trier has had a very successful career, one of his most notable accomplishments has been his unofficially named ‘Depression Trilogy’. One in particular I have taken interest in, for my own works is ‘Melancholia’. (3) A world disaster film about the undertows of depression and the social science of humans.
The film follows a young woman named Justine on her wedding night and days following. The film opens in a beautiful orchestra of music and imagery, which sets a mood to the film all in slow motion giving elegiac context.(6) This then cuts into Justine and her husband at their wedding. This is when you first notice the unusual behavior of Justine who disappearing and reappearing in sections, which seem to overlap. Clear tension between family relationships is also established in this time. (7) The last section is about Claire, Justine’s sister and the doom of the near ending of the world as a planet is on a collision course with the earth. Just as Justine falls deeper into depression. The film ends as the earth finishes.(9)
Justine’s depression is a prevalent theme throughout the movie. Her ability to remain calm in an extreme situation highlights the chronic state she is in. Although it is not fully addressed as to why Justine is depressed (much like real life, there does not need to be a reason). Justine shows clear signs of fatigue, hypersomnia, psychomotor slowing and passive suicide ideations. (9)
An interesting aspect to Von Trier’s films is his use of Women. Ms. Emily Watson from Von Trier’s, ‘Breaking the Waves’ described his use of women in film as a type of psychological portrait, many of the roles may be about himself. (10) Von Trier has been both described as a misogynist and to have a love of women. (11) Von Trier has openly spoken about his mental illness and the struggles associated at times unable to travel. Many people have suggested including himself in particularly that Melancholia is a reflection of his own mental health and depression. (12)
Melancholia has been described as a cinematic ballet of cosmic death.(14) With a unapologetically painful sadness.(3)Von Trier articulates that the discomfiture part of the show itself.(8) It’s an operatic cruelty with a glow of aesthetic satisfaction. (13)
The film itself is set in a very unique style often disturbing and dark with a blue monotone cinematographic quality to it.(14) I have spoken in variances about the musical theme to this film, however to fully understand this you must understand the structure of a symphony. The Sonata, Trio, Minuet or in contextual relevance “EXPOSITION — DEVELOPMENT — RECAPITULATION” (15) Melancholia follows this format the Sonata, an appreciation or overview/theme, the Trio, slow and detailed and the Minuet, the name is based off an old court dance, which fittingly describes the last section of Melancholia a dance of death and despair.(5) Von Trier collaborates with Tristan und Isolde and Richard Wagner to create this musical completion….
“Everything has to be treated with musicality, when you have silence, when you have dialogue. You have to choose your instruments and your parts. You have to mix your film like it was a piece of music.” – Lars Von Trier (5)
….. I find this style of filmmaking is flowing and fitting to the subject I hope to develop my work with such musical influence and beauty.
The evaluation of this film could be endless and this is what makes Von Trier a great filmmaker he evokes conversation with his films. This film covers a heavy subject sensitive to many, including Von Trier himself. The links between Justine and Von Trier add to the contextual value of this film. Furthermore the format of this film is no other word than beautiful.