In these dark days of cinema, where emphasis lies most often on the business aspect of things, auteurs are cherished less and less (although some could argue that they never were, really). They certainly exist but rarely make it to a multiplex where the world hears and sees what they have to say. Lars von Trier is the rare exception; he is one of the few filmmakers in existence with a consistently distinctive voice who manages to get his movies onto more big screens than most art-house filmmakers. His films reflect his personality, saying something that no one else has the guts to put out there (wrong or right as it may be). Aggravating as he may be at times, isn't that the price we pay to sit in a movie theater and actually use our brains?
Von Trier is always doing something to push the limits, and one rarely ends up indifferent about the results. Melancholia is no exception, although it shows an enormous visual explosion in his work. With Antichrist, he created sequences in slow motion that looked like a series of gorgeous photographs. In this film, his slowly, barely moving impressionistic "paintings" ramp up that experiment to create a movie so rich I wanted to take a bite out of it. The story is broken into two halves, focusing on sisters Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) as the planet Melancholia hurtles towards Earth. There is dissent on whether or not the planet will destroy Earth, and all the viewer is left with is how people act when faced with moral challenges.
In real life, von Trier is known for running his mouth and saying things that get him banned from film festivals (most recently Cannes, for saying he understood Hitler). However, the words that tumble from his lips should come as no surprise to anyone who has seen his films. The man forces you to watch a slow train wreck with every single picture he releases, every time reassuring you that people are ultimately animals and usually cannot rise above it when cornered. In this film, to say that Justine and Claire's family is dysfunctional is kind; they all seem like tiny individual planets themselves, rotating around each other and never connecting because it just isn't necessary.
This is especially obvious with the film split into two parts, first showing Justine's disastrous wedding and later Claire's anxiety over the planet approaching. Justine, like the unpredictable Melancholia, is hellbent on destruction. Claire, like Earth, remains in a constant state of exasperation over things not remaining the way they are. The Earth/Claire's atmosphere is being sucked out by the threatening Melancholia/Justine, and in the end, they must face each other. There's only so long you can avoid confrontation. Of course, that's just the way I see it; my favorite part about von Trier's films is the gray area they drown in, leaving interpretation to the viewer. I haven't been so enthusiastic about discussing a film since The Tree of Life earlier this year. And the best part is that everyone is right.