david hare wrote:
I keep remembering and then forgetting to mention Lars' debt to Tarkovsky. Schreck defined the business of the three (four including the boy) souls seemingly isolated from the rest of humanity waiting for the end of the world. Although Lars dedicates the previous movie AntiChrist to Tark it's Melancholia that really pays this due, in particular to the Sacrifice, another chamber piece at the end of the world. Of course Tark's films seem to embody some form of redemption or spirituality/mystery where Lars' do not at all.
I've watched the film myself now!!! Yes, definitely Tarkovsky-inflected throughout, especially in that opening prologue where Bruegel's Hunters In The Snow smouldering in slow motion feels like it is bringing together the pre-flight bonfire scene (the camera moving out from the picture of Hari to show it being consumed with flames along with Kris's other papers) and the library scene
from Solaris together. And then you have the Tarkovskian horse falling to the ground in the prologue (rather than rising as in Andrei Rublev) and being used as a symbol of man's cruelty with Justine whipping it to the ground.
Herr Schreck wrote:
In essence, it's just not my cup of tea. Dunst's character confused just a touch in a clinical sense, has obviously survived functionally for many years out in the world, a consistently successful female, to where she was depended upon by a professional marketing co., seen to be functional or sane enough to be worth the risk of spending tens of thousands on for a wedding ceremony, if her breakdown was so complete that she became that dysfunctional in all of life's aspects, it rings less of melancholia and more like a sudden and unexpected attack of bipolarism, her lack of repercussion-self-awareness, and empathetic communication with her surrounding benefactors seems so complete.
I do think Schreck has a valid point - Melancholia is slightly problematic for me in the sense that we get no idea of Justine's life before the wedding. Has Justine been playing a part successfully for a long time and entering into a marriage simply because it is the 'normal thing to do' has been the final straw in her sanity? Or has she been like this for a long time, in which case why is everyone so upset with her? As she says to Michael when he is leaving: "But Michael...what did you expect?"
Did he assume that he would be the one to save her?
This I think leads to the main idea of the wedding scene in Melancholia, the way that everyone seems to trying to push and manipulate Justine around in the thinking that as long as she does certain proper things then everything will be fine. The people surrounding her seem much more upset that Justine is ruining the various moments by not acting properly than with the way she is feeling (Udo Kier is the funniest example as the wedding organiser, especially when he keeps holding up his hand to his face to block out Justine, stating that he is going to refuse to acknowledge her because of the way that she has ruined all of the careful planning, only to keep coming into contact with her a couple of extra times and having to duck out of the scene ostentatiously covering his face!)
Again is this just because they are in a reception after a wedding, where even the most 'sane' person has to keep up appearances; or is Justine pushed around this much outside of this one night (as suggested by her repulsive ad agency boss pestering her to work on a tagline during the evening)? Looking at the dysfunctional parents, the father is trying to self-medicate through sex (which Justine herself tries, first with Michael at the wrong time and then with the new ad agency recruit on the golf course), and the mother seems more like Justine but functional. Rampling is amazing in the short scenes that she appears in. She first seems as if she is the only one who sees that Justine is doing this for appearances, yet when she talks of Claire having been 'seduced' into the lifestyle, it seems as if she is not allowing for her daughters to exist in the world outside of her conception of them - as if because she recognises the rituals and rites as a sham, nobody else is allowed to take comfort in performing them, either for their own or for other people's benefit. She is the melancholic force on Justine in the first part (it is telling that they both end up taking separate baths in their rooms at the same point during the wedding ceremony), telling her to jack it all in when Justine comes to her for sympathy. And when Justine reaches out to her, more earthily grounded, father she finds him gone, even miswriting her name for one of the multiple Bettys that he is fooling around with in the rush to leave (or has he swapped his love for his two daughters into much less demanding sexual attention for a couple of identicallly named floozies?)
Knowing more about the world of those surrounding her would enable the audience to modify our views of Justine a lot, but then that would not present her as this representative of 'antisocial' norms. The film that came to mind the most while watching Melancholia was The Idiots - the characters in that film were pretending to 'spaz' publically in order to transgress social norms. In Melancholia Justine wanders off in private to have these moments, such as peeing on the golf course whilst looking up at the stars, in a similar attempt to release the tension caused by the reception and Claire and John's tight control.
That idea of someone saying to you "Don't embarrass me. Make sure you do not make a scene. Don't ruin this, like you always do. Do you know how much this is costing?", with the addition of the mother unhelpfully saying "Yes, throw it all away. This is not what you are anyway", is actually creating or enabling the circumstances for Justine to 'create a scene', as if that is what is expected of her. Those around her keep insisting that she keeps on doing things (cutting the cake, doing a dance, perfoming her conjugal duties on her wedding night), which makes her crises more public and steadily builds towards a breakdown. I love that moment of Justine leaving the picture of the apple orchard which Michael gives her (and tells her to keep with her for support) behind - another example of someone giving Justine something which they
want her to use to stay calm and sane, forcing it on her to make themselves, rather than Justine, feel better. As if then they can write the situation off with a heavy sigh and a "well, I tried" shrug.
It is perhaps egotistical on Justine's part (and I assume that we are seeing most of this first part from Justine's psychological point of view that enables each of these coercions to feel like blows to the psyche) to assume that everyone is working in their own self interests and not for hers. After all they are all here for her! Yet there is that sense of pointlessness that I think she is recognising - that this marriage will not keep her sane, that cutting the cake or throwing the bouquet (another extremely funny scene where Justine slows to a stop and Claire comes up and perfunctorily chucks it down to the crowd below! Claire is practical to the end, doing anything to ensure that they stay on schedule, even if it means performing the action herself without thinking about the way that it is not a particularly significant gesture when she is doing it!) is not going to change her downward trajectory and that instead of running from it and keeping up appearances she should turn and embrace that darkness.
The sisters also feel as if they are running at different speeds. In the wedding Justine is slowing to an almost comatose standstill while Claire is so busy with trivialities that she does not have time to stop and think about the world around her (Very Jeanne Dielman-esque too. It is perhaps telling that the one scene in which Claire truly 'stops' for a moment, seemingly able to drop her guard, is the one where John disappears to commit suicide). Which is best technique for living? Neither seems to be any use in the wider scheme of things!
I like that in the Claire section Justine has come to a halt (apart from an Antichrist monologue about the natural world being evil) and we finally get to see what set of circumstances would drive John and Claire to share Justine's state of mind of utter pointlessness and futility. The practicalities of electricity (I like that moment when the cars fail to start because the computers have been fried - a nice, and frightening, new motif that can be used in disaster films - it also gets dealt with after the EMP strike takes place in that High School of the Dead anime series) and even the people fall away, leaving just the sisters and Claire's son in Bergmanesque isolation (with an Exterminating Angel twist of seemingly being unable to leave the estate - or is that just the pointlessness of doing so raising its head again? Does that mean that we could even think of the apocalypse simply being located in one country house? An apocalypse of the family? The dangers of leaving a couple of troubled characters alone together for too long to feed off of each other's energies, as in Persona?)
I suppose the tragedy is that Justine finally, through the boy, comes to appreciate doing some kind of pointless ritualistic task on behalf of keeping the spirits up of someone else (albeit totally destroying her sister's last remaining socialised notion of having a final glass of wine out on the balcony!) She and the boy ignore the tragedy of impending death that they can do nothing about (as most of us do!), build the stick cave and bring Claire with them, holding each others hands. The amusing part is that in those final moments Claire totally ruins the moment by pulling away and hugging herself (much as in the hailstorm on the golf course earlier she had dropped the boy unprotected in his pyjamas on the ground)! Apparently that image of Claire pulling away from the other two at the last moment wasn't intended by von Trier, but it does work as an amusing final touch! Has she broken the spell and doomed them all? Ironically ruined everything at the last moment?
Oh, and I like the nod to Lav Diaz in the 'Googling Melancholia' scene!