What is it with filmmakers and nihilism these days?
Melancholia, written and directed by Lars von Trier, is another in a long line of films pimping an oversimplified view of reality paraded as thoughtful art.
The movie is divided into two parts. The first covers Justines’s (Kirsten Dunst) wedding reception and her abnormal reaction to what most people would consider one of the happiest days of their life.
The second part of the movie starts the day after the wedding and follows the response of Justine, her sister Claire and brother John’s (Kiefer Sutherland) attempts to deal emotionally with the threat of an approaching planet predicted to collide with and end all life on earth.
The message in the movie is found in the film’s implicit critique of the three characters’ responses to the impending doom.
Claire responds with fear. As a result, her husband John (Sutherland) is constantly trying to protect her from reality. “Have you been online again [reading about the approaching planet]?” he asks. John is unrealistically hopeful, naive even, in assuring his wife that the planet will pass without incident and that “scientists aren’t always right.”
The film’s heroine, Justine, has suffered with depression her whole life. At times she is so depressed she is nearly catatonic but as the planet approaches she responds as she has always responded to life. It is no surprise to her that this is how it all ends and that life is meaningless. As the others wilt and cower Justine goes on as she always has. Get it?
You see, Lars wants us to know Justine is right. The world is “evil.” There is no hope, and if you respond in fear you are a coward; if you respond positively you are a fool. The only brave and intellectually honest response is to be depressed and hopeless.
What bothers me about this movie besides it’s pretentiousness and the glacial pace of the narrative is it’s overly simplistic worldview. It is Lars who is naive. The world is neither merely evil, nor merely good; it is good but corrupted. And the fact that the world is good says something about its Creator, which is a basis for hope. See Romans 1:20.
Unfortunately, even my beloved Coen brothers can’t resist the urge to jump on the nihilistic band wagon, as they demonstrated in A Serious Man. At least in The Big Lebowski, the nihilists were a sideshow, and spawned the classic line from Walter: “They are not Nazis, Donnie! They are nihilists. Nazis have an ethos.”
If there is anything redeeming about Melancholia it is its poignant portrayal of depression. The entire movie takes place at a mansion seemingly cut off from the outside world. Even when others are at the mansion for the wedding reception, one feels Justine’s sense of isolation. In an attempt to feel something, anything, she engages in bizarre behavior, is inconsiderate and rude. You can’t watch the movie without trying to understand the kind of emotional state that would lead to such conduct.
All in all, though, I couldn’t help but wish she had just taken a Prozac. GS