There's a big difference between Art and Story. The two do not necessarily preclude each other, but in movies, filmmakers tend to favor the latter over the former. This has resulted in wave upon wave of horrible film, granted. However, favoring the former over the latter hasn't resulted in any great shakes, either. In fact, both extremes often end with bewildered or annoyed audiences. However, when a story-based film fails, detractors have a much better time of it, because you can point to plot holes, inconsistent or incomplete characters, cheesy dialogue, or pure cliche. When an "artsy" film fails, however, the explosive force between its fans and haters gains extra force because, bottom line, it comes down to taste. Likewise with this film. It has as many glowing reviews as nasty reviews, and the bottom line isn't about the beauty, artistry, or skill of the film. It's about whether or not you believe depression can be an art form. I do not.
MELANCHOLIA, as a film, is almost exactly what it sounds like. It is a 136-minute-long gaze at depression. And that's it. Seriously. No, seriously.
Do you want a story? Well, fine then. How about this? A sister planet to Earth is discovered. It is named Melancholia (oooh!) and it is headed straight for Earth. If the two planets collide, then the entire human race is doomed. Also, a girl is getting married and she's very sad. The end.
Does it seem like I'm exaggerating? I am absolutely not. Kirsten Dunst plays one of the most annoying characters of her career (and that's saying a lot). She is part of a wealthy family on a wealthy estate that is holding a wealthy wedding between her and some other wealthy people. Inexplicably, she's depressed beyond words. The movie never explains why. "Why" is not the film's motif. Instead, it patiently and lovingly follows its tortured heroine as she weeps, falls motionless to the floor, or goes and sleeps with total strangers on her wedding night. Because she's so, so, so sad, you see.
This is art?
I'll admit, Lars Von Trier IS an artist, but if this is what he's going to apply his skill to, then I want none of it. The movie begins with a pastiche of ultra-slow-motion images set to classical music. I didn't time this section, but it seemed to last nearly twenty minutes (I'm almost certainly wrong). I thought every image was gorgeous and stunning, and I immediately knew that I was going to hate the film. Why? Because it announced, at the start, that it was EXCLUSIVELY about the lavishness of the imagery. Even that I could stand if I didn't have to endure another two hours of a pretty and entitled girl crying for absolutely no reason whatsoever. C'mon, Lars! Make it about a short order cook or an oil rig worker or a fifty-year old divorcee with diabetes. Characters with complexity and powerful lives -- these are people I might be able to handle roiling in self-pity for 120 minutes. A disaffected girl who might just be too rich and coddled? Please.
I did some research, desperate to understand why such a dismal wreck would ever be conceived, let alone put to film, and I read that Lars wanted to show multiple facets of depression. In other words, he wanted to show the good and the bad, how depression might be useful or workable under certain circumstances. How could that be? Well, it turns out that it is useful to be skilled at depression when the world is going to end. End of Deep Important Message.
Yes. The world ends in the film, and part of Lars' message (if the interview is to be believed) is that Dunst's character's familiarity with abiding ennui made her especially suited to enduring the destruction of mankind. This is about the most ridiculous point a film could make, since the utter destruction of mankind renders moot the way any humans deal with it. Who freaking cares if someone deals with Earth's obliteration with suicide, grace and aplomb, selfish weeping, or some kind of drug-fueled orgy? In the end, you're left with one thing: the utter obliteration of mankind. For crying out loud, is this some kind of deep, insightful message?
I'm sorry. I probably sound bitter. I guess I am. I only bought and watched this movie after the endless praise it received from critics and friends, and when I returned to said friends with less-than-glowing remarks, I was told that I lacked patience, cared more about commercialism, or was too easily bored.
Nah. I like my movies to be about things. And if they're going to travel the path of artistic flair, I'd still like that art -- beautiful or not -- to teach me something either a) new, b) interesting, or c) profound. MELANCHOLIA's message is absolutely NONE of those things, and I will gladly debate anyone who says otherwise. You can film sadness as gorgeously as you want, but if the sadness is prompted by nothing, propelled by nothing, and ends in nothing, then the end result is exactly the same: a big, fat, zero.