If the best way to critique a film is to make a film, then The Tree of Life officially has its soul-crushing rebuke. With this morning’s world premiere of Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia, the dour Dane punched a hole into the buoyant spirituality of Terrence Malick’s hymn to existence. Punched a hole? More like stuck a shiv.
It’s not surprising, considering the near-nihilism of Von Trier’s filmography — especially 2009’s Antichrist, a torture chamber of psychological pain (not to mention clitoral circumcision and penile bludgeoning) depicting the dissolution of a marriage between Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg after the death of their child.
In his latest, it’s the last days of Earth, as a rogue planet christened Melancholia hurtles through the solar system on a weaving, waltz-like path towards destruction. Before everyone realizes the end is nigh, though, life isn’t so much futile as it is just severely disappointing.
In the first half of the film, Kirsten Dunst plays a bride whose wedding day turns terribly, terribly sour when her chronic depression gets the better of her and sabotages the event. As the second half unspools, Gainsbourg (serving a second tour of duty with the director) does her best to reconcile the now-confirmed destruction of the human race. Dunst, meanwhile, accepts their fate with an almost beatific told-ya-so calm.
“It’s not so much a film about the end of the world, it’s a film about a state of mind,” said Von Trier at the press conference following the screening. Naming a galactic rock after one’s own neurosis certainly cements his point. But all of Von Trier’s work has more to do with states of mind than anything resembling reality — his tales are full of sadistic plot twists and metaphorical red herrings. If anything, Melancholia is far more straightforward and even earnest, which makes it seem like the most honest movie Von Trier has ever done.
The director is a renowned artistic prankster-he also confessed to being a Nazi in front of the international press today and suggested that he was prepping a 3-hour porn film starring Dunst and Gainsbourg “with lots of uncomfortable sex.” But it seems Von Trier can’t tackle a topic like depression with anything but a straight face.