Beautiful from a distance: Melancholia

If you have ever wondered how it feels to be clinically depressed, ever thought about what’s wrong with all those broken people, you should see Lars von Trier’s Melancholia. As the world goes under, you too will feel relieved that the pain ends.

Perhaps it doesn’t sound like it, but that’s a positive review of the movie. Von Trier has managed to explore that seemingly neverending state of deep melancholy to such depths that the movie takes you there. It’s up to you if you’ve got the stomach to join him for the journey. If you do, it’s a beautiful and fascinating one.

And no, that the movie ends with the destruction of our planet is not a spoiler – it’s the premise. It’s established already in the first beautiful minutes of the movie, making sure that you know that this is not a thriller, there’s nothing to save the leading characters in the third act, there’s absolutely no hope. It’s not about anything like that. It’s about Melancholia. And it’s about melancholia.

Melancholia is a giant planet heading towards earth, threatening to collide with it and completely annihilate all life. And, in all its beauty and terror, it’s a metaphor for depression.

The first part of the movie deals with Justine (Kirsten Dunst), a young woman falling into depression. She’s getting married, but she’s not really there. She goes through the motions, because she knows they’re expected from her. She knows how a human is supposed to act and how a human is supposed to feel in a situation like a wedding. Joyful. Energetic. Giving. Recieving. But she feels none of it, and the necessity of the charade only pulls her closer to the abyss.

The latter part of the movie sees the focus shift more unto the events surrounding the approaching planet. Here the exploration of melancholy shifts into one of metaphors, and this allows us to watch other characters deal with Melancholia the planet. Depending on who they were before, and how they viewed themselves, they react in ways that differ greatly from Justine’s. It’s not necessarily the “strongest” that manages to cope with it the best. When the strong has lost their strength, they have nothing.

At first some characters believe it will merely pass us by at a safe distance, and studies it as a wondrous thing. As it slowly moves above the horizon, it’s revealed to be a majestic sight shining a cool, serene light on our world. But they will all soon learn that Melancholia is beautiful from a distance, but earth shattering up close.

It’s a film full of metaphors, but it’s not a puzzle to be solved. One should not view it from an analytical point of view, but rather an intuitive one. It is to be seen not with your head but with your gut. The movie embodies depression, from the descent into it in the first act, to the deepest chasms of despair in the second and finally to the ascent in the third.

One can wonder what the point is with a movie like this, beyond pure cinematic pleasure. I think the answer is that there’s quite a bit to learn and understand from it, as a window into Lars von Trier’s and many others’ own experiences with depression.

Of course, depression lies to you. It paints everything monochrome, making it almost impossible to see anything but the grimy dark. Well, maybe happiness lies to you as well, despite feeling so good. Illusions of the benignity of the malignant are dangerous. Then perhaps the wisest path is the middle one. Truth without disruption. Peace without excess. Stillness.

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