A Confused Experience of Melancholia

I did not enjoy Melancholia. I would be surprised if someone could come away from it with a sense of ‘enjoyment’, which I do not think is entirely applicable even if you like the film – the experience is somewhat more profound than that.

My experience was, at a certain point, that I profoundly did not wish to see someone urinate on a cricket pitch, but maybe that’s a slightly Victorian attitude. Of course, the film is not about urination, but it seems a shame that it should be such a memorable moment of an otherwise – sumptuous? disastrous? spectacle.

It is a film worth seeing for the first ten minutes alone, which, in their combination of Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde with a series of dynamic visuals, is – dare I say it? – somewhat revolutionary. In some aspects it is a little like the prologue or dumbshow that used to precedes various plays and works – it contains the whole story of the film. This is not its revolutionary aspect. Its revolutionary aspect is the combination of music and image, of stillness and movement, to create a ten minutes that is an entirely overwhelming experience. You cannot distance yourself from it in any way, and that in itself is quite unique to cinema.

I would, had I to see it again, leave after the first ten minutes. This is not just because I don’t particularly like to be distressed and contemplate mental illness and the end of the world. I thought it was incredibly trite and somewhat despicable to have the world destroyed by something named ‘Melancholia’. The metaphor is too noxious. Furthermore, there were some gaping holes in the plot, not least that the planet’s supposed trajectory, and the fact that it went away first before it came back to destroy everything is total baloney, a mere plot device in order to have a palpable moment of relief before disaster strikes. The all-too-convenient and coincidental devices of the 678 beans and John’s suicide were also underwhelming and, frankly, a little rubbish.

The film never once leads you outside of the rich and troubled family it portrays, and this is a somewhat claustrophobic experience. One would expect, in a catastrophic, end-of-the-world movie, to at least get to see how ‘the other half’ dies. However, it is not really a film about the end of the world. It is a film about mental illness and melancholia inside a claustrophobic upper-class family, who coincidentally die when the world ends. Super. I can’t help but feel that I’ve been conned by a context which gives the director a chance to substitute actual emotion with loud noise and powerful music.

It is still a film that deserves to be watched for its artistry and superb acting, but I remain unconvinced that it stands up to even a little critical analysis.

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