Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A Ghoul Versus Melancholia (Part 2)

Click here for Part 1!

The screen fades to black and is replaced with a title card reading “Part Two: Claire”. It's been an undetermined amount of time since the wedding, I would guess a few weeks at most. Justine has come to stay with John and Claire, and we see she's regressed to an almost catatonic state as she can't do ANYTHING by herself. As they wait for Justine's taxi to arrive, John and Claire discuss Melancholia: a rogue planet that is due to fly by the Earth in five days. Claire worries it'll hit the Earth, but John assures her it's completely safe and it'll pass them by.

Justine can barely even walk, Claire forced to guide her to the bathroom and bathe her. John is just DISGUSTED by all this, and again I say: GET HER SOME FUCKING HELP! A few days later Justine is beginning to get more functional, Claire taking her riding again. Just like last time, Abraham will not cross the bridge so Justine begins to SAVAGELY beat him with her riding crop until Claire intervenes. Mmm, there goes all that sympathy I had for Justine. Will that damn planet get here already? That same night Claire sees Justine walking outside, almost in a trance. She follows her, finding her lying naked on the ground and basking in the moonlit grow of the approaching Melancholia.

Ladies, is this a thing? Between this and Another Earth I really wonder if I'm not missing out on some big secret. I will never get over how identical this scene is to Another Earth, I would love to see the Vegas odds on people on the opposite sides of the globe coming up with the exact same idea for their movies at nearly the exact same time. Justine's is a lot more sexual though, as she really seems to be getting off on Melancholia as she runs her hands over her body. The next day Claire returns from the nearby village, having bought a lot of pills because she's still very concerned about Melancholia. John notices this, locking them up to make sure she doesn't overdose on them.

We catch up with Justine, who has completely come back to life after fucking a planet. She is now very negative, telling Claire Melancholia WILL hit the Earth. They have a very fascinating exchange that I will transcribe:

Justine: The Earth is evil. We don't need to grieve for it.
Claire: What?
Justine: Nobody will miss it.
Claire: But where would Leo grow?
Justine: All I know is life on Earth is evil.
Claire: Then maybe life somewhere else.
Justine: But there isn't.
Claire: How do you know?
Justine: Because I know things.
Claire: Oh yes, you always imagined you did.
Justine: I know we're alone.
Claire: I don't think you know that at all.
Justine: 678. The bean lottery. Nobody guessed the amount of beans in the bottle.
Claire: No, that's right.
Justine: But I know. 678.
Claire: Well, perhaps. But what does that prove?
Justine: That I know things. And when I say we're alone, we're alone. Life is only on Earth, and not for long.

So... Justine has some kind of psychic powers? What? Of everything in this film, this is the element that is the MOST nonsensical. It seems to me a bigger deal should have been made of this, as opposed to NOTHING. While I've always felt it helps to explain Justine's depression, that her imminent knowledge of the future made her miserable her entire life, it's such a left field concept to throw into play this late in the story. I love how Claire just casually brushes off Justine's revelation about the correct number of beans with a “yeah, well...”. This also makes me wonder if Justine really CAN shoot Sith lightning out of her hands, and if Von Trier didn't originally write this movie where she was a superhero trying to save the planet.

Justine's powers are never mentioned again, so don't dwell too much on this bizarre scene like I have. The big night arrives, Melancholia passing by the Earth with no consequence just like John said it would. And they all lived happily ever after. Except Justine, one would assume.

Cue the credits.

Oh... it's still going? In the morning Claire wakes up all smiles and happy thoughts, so caught up in her reverie that she fails to notice John looking through his telescope, panicked as fuck. She takes a nap in the afternoon, waking up to find John missing. Worried, she starts searching their massive estate for him. She checks the drawer John locked the pills up in, seeing it is now empty. Uh oh. She tracks him down to the stables, dead of an overdose. Wow, way to TOTALLY bitch out there Jack Bauer. This sets Claire off, because now SHE knows what is going to happen as well.

She grabs Leo and tries to drive off in her van, but it won't start because even Lars Von Trier isn't immune to cliché movie bullshit apparently. They hop into the golf cart, Justine declining to accompany them since she knows the score. She watches them leave on the cart, looking almost amused. Driving towards town, the golf cart is stopped dead in its tracks by the Magic Bridge of Doom. This is another confusing element of the story, and can you tell I much prefer the first half of this movie to the second? Why can't they cross the damn bridge? This would be fine if you chalked it up as some kind of inevitability of fate thing, but ten why was Claire able to cross it when she bought pills? Just so John could get his bitch ticket out of this movie? That reeks of convenience for the sake of the plot, which I am not accustomed to seeing in these kind of films.

It begins to hail, so Claire carries Leo back to the mansion instead of trying to run to town. On their way back she cuts through the golf course, passing our old friend the 19th hole. Now this is important because on multiple occasions John brought up that his estate had an 18 hole golf course, so this 19th hole shouldn't exist. What does this mean? Well, no one KNOWS except Von Trier, and even that's debatable. But it has inspired several theories such as the entire second half is a dream a still catatonic Justine is having and that's she's an unreliable narrator, hence strange details such as this. Melancholia is just a metaphor for her own depression crashing down upon her.

Another is this was just subverting John's know-it-all attitude, and that it was foreshadowing how wrong he was about the fly by since every other word out of John's mouth basically amounted to “Science is God, science is infallible!”. The fact he didn't even know how many holes his own golf course had was a way of illustrating this. In an interview Von Trier was asked about the significance of the 19th hole, and he replied very tongue-in-cheek that it symbolized limbo. Unfortunately, many missed the sarcastic tone of this answer and have taken this as fact. Even the IMDB trivia section for Melancholia lists this as such.

Claire, utterly defeated, is resigned to her fate. She tries to make plans with Justine about how to spend their last living hours on Earth, but Justine goes into full Gaby-mode and just mocks her. Justine is much warmer towards Leo though, telling him she'll help build a magic fort that'll protect them. They spend the rest of their time doing this, building a teepee out of large sticks that they sit in. Claire joins them, Justine instructing everyone to hold their hands and close their eyes. Right on schedule, Melancholia enters the atmosphere and SMASHES THEM INTO OBLIVION.

Cue the credits.

Downer ending, much? From the start, Von Trier spoiled the ending to the movie by saying everyone was going to die. He said he wanted to tell a story not about the end of the world, but rather how people would deal with such a thing. He got the idea from a therapy session, where his therapist told him depressed people handle bad situations the best, as they're always prepared for the worst. I wouldn't say he necessarily conveyed that idea because after John commits suicide things start getting really weird thanks to Justine, but nonetheless it's highly entertaining to watch things unfold.

It's kind of funny how the first half of the movie is better than the second half, the half that actually involves the main plot. The wedding is almost its own story, barely tied to Claire's story outside of Justine's fascination with the red star. But this is were Kirsten Dunst was acting her arse off, as you get to witness the complete breakdown of a character that originally starts off glowing.

Dunst was rightfully awarded the Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival for her performance in this, hopefully reminding a lot of people that she is actually a great actress. I've always felt she got WAY too much shit for playing Mary Jane in the Spider-Man movies, she was doing the best she could with what she was given. It wasn't her fault that her character was written SO ATTROCIOUSLY that to this day you can't convince me Joe Quesada didn't secretly write all her lines, as he hates Mary Jane more than he hates cancer.

Despite boasting a 77% Fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes, Melancholia is still a very divisive film. A lot of people like to say it's boring and doesn't have much of a story, both of which I suppose I can see that perspective. But I wasn't really worried about these things as the fantastic acting from everyone carried the film for me, keeping me interested the entire time from scene to scene to see what they'd do next. It's not perfect, there are a few missteps, but nothing is perfect after all. I'm not even going to bother pointing out all the scientific inaccuracies pertaining to gravity and whatnot, Von Trier clearly stated he ignored all science when he was writing this.

Another thing that kept the film moving for me was how absolutely gorgeous it was, as you'd be hard pressed to say this isn't one of the most beautiful films shot this decade. It's amazing how this film had a budget of not even ten million dollars and could have EASILY passed for a hundred million dollar affair. This is also probably Von Trier's most accessible film, as his usual style of experimental photography was largely abandoned for a more traditional experience. When he did go for experimental, namely the highly stylized opening, it made for a much more memorable contrast with what followed later. This is definitely another film I give a high recommendation to, it's one you should see more than once because each viewing can give you a new insight into it, and that is CERTAINLY something you don't give much of these days. Let's see how it fares in the Dueling Movies Final Rundown:

1. What Did The Movies Look Like They Were About?
A discovery of a previously unknown planet near Earth completely changes the lives of everyone on Earth.

2. What Were The Movies Actually About?
-In Another Earth, the discovery of a parallel Earth causes our heroine Rhoda to try to change both her life and the life of the man whose family she killed for the better
-In Melancholia, the discovery of a rogue planet that will possibly crash into Earth causes our heroine Justine to... not really care.

3. Which Movie Had The Better Protagonist?
While both actresses were fantastic, Rhoda wins because there's an arc to her character that inspires a ray of hope. Not that there's anything wrong with a movie NOT having a happy ending, Justine's actions in the second half of the movie get quite vile at times.

4. Which Movie Had The Better Love Interest?
Another Earth's John wins out over the planet Melancholia in a landslide. John was a well developed character with deeply visual pain that was brought out of his hell by the same woman that caused it, cleaning himself up as much as his landfill of a house. Melancholia's only action was to get Justine naked before killing her.

5. Which Movie Had The Better Antagonist?
This isn't really applicable here since neither film had a traditional antagonist. Technically, Rhoda was also Another Earth's antagonist since she killed John's family and lied to his face for almost the entire movie, but it wasn't out of malice. I'll give this to Melancholia, for that whole “destroy the entire world” thing that most super villains can only dream about.

6.  Which Movie Had The Better Story?
Once again, I'm going with Another Earth. Melancholia has a much more abstract story that inspires much more interpretation than Another Earth's very straightforward one, but Another Earth's made you care about everyone much more because it took the time to let us get to know them. This made every event feel more meaningful and I genuinely cared about them.

7.  Which Movie Wins?
Despite what I said earlier about Melancholia being one of my favourite films, I am awarding this to Another Earth. It is lacking Melancholia's deeper allusions, but trades that for one of the most gripping stories I've seen in a very long time that is still with me a week after seeing it. That is something when most of the movie took place in a filthy house and accomplished most of its storytelling through nonverbal communication. This is the first major upset in Dueling Movies, as I never thought for a second Melancholia would be topped when I sat down to do this batch of reviews. I need more of this whole “reviewing two awesome movies back to back thing” on here!