1990 Silicon Dreams Games and Movie Reviews: Melancholia 2011: Trier and the Controversy of Disgust

Friday, January 6, 2012

Melancholia 2011: Trier and the Controversy of Disgust

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Lars Von Trier is not Nazi. He's not much of anything as worldly and trivial as that. At that Cannes press-conference he was not quite joking, not entirely serious. In his own words he was trying to 'entertain' people. Isn't that what movies are all about. Through the past several years Trier's been going through a deepening state of depression and Melancholia is his way of expressing that.  

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Melancholia(IMDB) is a movie about a planet, that's been hiding behind the sun, which is now on a collision course for the Earth, and from the opening scene, what Trier calls a prelude, there's no doubt that life on Earth will be over very soon. The movie follows the life of four characters - the bride, her sister and the sister's husband and son, from her wedding day to the point of the collision. In a way the movie's about their coming to terms with their fate, but it's even more so about the psychology behind coming to terms with death. Each of the main characters goes through stages of denial, fear, anger and finally acceptance. What's noteworthy about Trier's work is not so much the plot itself, but the nuances of the interpretation. Like a dream, it's not about the content itself, but the feeling of it, the same images and sounds could feel entirely different under the circumstances. Under Trier's dictation Wagner's 'Tristan and Isolde', John Millais's painting of Ophelia are given an entirely different harsher meaning.

As any Trier movie, it starts with an opening scene, in slow motion punctuated by a memorable classical melody, as seen by the bride (starring Kirsten Dunst) in her own half-dream, half-premonition. We see her as she's trying to enjoy herself at her own wedding party, and the longer it goes the more apparent it is she simply can't. Something is stopping her and at one point it becomes painfully obviously that that's how she's been her whole life. When her sister asks her what's wrong there's no surprise in the question, only a frustrated underpinning of a problem that has existed for years and years. And the answer is one of almost childishly stubborn pretense. When Trier talks about his depression, there's the same realisation  the self-awareness that you have to get up in the morning and follow a schedule in order to escape the melancholy. Similarly Kirsten Dunst's character is equally involved in her work to a point of complete denial of the self.
She's in a way an image of Trier, only placed within a situation which requires her to come to terms with it, with herself, her inability to attain enjoyment or satisfaction of life.

Trier himself complained that the movie felt too beautiful, that he had let himself down. If you're familiar with his work, Trier started a group in 1995(Dogma 95) dedicated to preserving cinema as an art-medium, rather than a simple platform for voyeurism. Among the ground points of that movement were that the movie should be shot from a shoulder camera and any static images, be there any at all can be static as much as immobility can be achieved by hand. Another point was that artificial lighting was forbidden, as long as there's enough light to achieve exposure, otherwise a single light source was allowed to be attached to the camera itself. Sets were allowed for inside scenes, but if a prop is required the director should do the best to find that prop in real life. Otherwise it can be constructed in its natural environment. Lastly the movie happens where the camera is and not the reverse. Those was his ideals as an author in 95, and last year in Cannes he apologised, believing with Melancholia he might have broken his own credo.

Trier's press conference in Cannes immediately after the movie screening in early 2011 was a huge scandal that ultimately had him banned from the film festival, although his movies are still eligible to receive rewards. Which they invariably still do. Trier still continues to apologise for it. 


  1. Good post. sounds like an interesting movie.

  2. Seems like I should watch some of his movies. Even though there is a disappointment in this one by his own standards I am sure I'll like it.

  3. He's a pretty good director, his choice of words at that time was, to say the least, terrible though.

  4. Movie seems very interesting. Will definitely check it out if i have time. Thanks for the share!

  5. Melancholia was beautiful, both like and unlike his previous movies, where he tended to rely on shock and visceral disgust.

  6. very interesting, will be following daily for more info :D


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