by Francis Levy
Lars von Trier is a party pooper. Dunderheads don’t you get it? The whole performance at Cannes was a set up. It’s Melancholia played right before our eyes. Here he is in the limelight at Cannes, creator of Dogma, lionized with Kirsten Dunst, his star at his side, and he reprises the role she's just played in the film. He makes anti-Semitic remarks and finds himself banned from Cannes. Similarly Justine, the character Dunst plays, throws her whole life away, rejecting her marriage and the employer who has just given her a promotion to art director, at the agency at which she works— remaining loyal to the spirit of her depressive mother (Charlotte Rampling) who has instilled in her a deep and abiding hatred of life. All of this mind you while Wagner’s famed Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde plays again and again and again, underscoring the death in life which constitutes what amounts to a passion or calling for her. The lighting is spare and real and so is the message that that there is nothing, no transcendence, no life beyond the aberration known as existence—nothing except, art. The initial montage sequence is a homage to Bergman’s Persona. In Persona you are dealing with an actress who’s had a psychotic break. Freud defined melancholia as a response to loss which includes a lack of interest in the outside world. The close-ups of Dunst’s face in the early montage of Melancholia evince the shrinking from the will to live characteristic of the condition Freud describes. The planet on a collision course with earth that constitutes the second movement of the film is called Melancholia, but it’s as if the catastrophe had already occurred to Justine before the collision ever takes place. She is suffering about something which has yet to be, a brilliant little touch on von Trier’s part (there is another particularly brilliant directorial touch in the little piece of wedding cake on Justine’s face that precedes the breakup the marriage on the very night it’s begun). The parallels with Persona continue in part two of the film which, along with the collision, is devoted to Justine’s sister Claire. If Justine is afraid to live, Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is afraid to die, but like with Bergman’s nurse and actress the roles switch and then with the big ball of destruction called Melancholia hovering overhead, Justine is exultant. She is finally in her element. As the world comes to an end, Justine becomes a latter day Grand Inquisitor, The Grand Facilitator, helping her frightened sister and nephew to die.
[This was originally posted to The Screaming Pope, Francis Levy's blog of rants and reactions to contemporary politics, art and culture.]