Another week of isolation due to COVID-19 and another film from the depression trilogy by Lars Von Trier. This seemed wholly fitting for the current climate with a film that goes through the impending end of the world and a person suffering near catatonic depression. While in reality this isn’t the end of the world, watching too much of the media coverage would have you believing that it really is.
The films starts with a series of still images which have been stitched together, these have images of space, the painting “The Hunters in the Snow” burning, images of the character, Justine with birds falling from the sky, all as if it was like a life flashing before your eyes. There are also images of a lawn with trees and a sundial with two shadows.
This starts with the couple being 2 hours late to their own reception due to the limousine struggling to drive around the small and winding lanes to get to the venue.
The reception itself is almost farcical. It starts with Justine (Kirsten Dunst) noticing a red star which John (Kiefer Sutherland) identifies as Antares. Justine seems fascinated by the star.
During the reception Justine is urged by her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) to hide her debilitating melancholy and just have a nice night. John, who is married to Claire, is agitated that he has paid for the whole wedding and makes no bones about making that known.
The mother of the bride, Gaby (Charlotte Rampling) is the epitome of a cold and callous mother, in complete denial of her children’s mental health at some point stating “I can’t be bothered with your rituals”, as though the wedding of one of her children is a burden to her. The father of the bride, Dexter (John Hurt), on the flip side is like a court jester, playing hide the spoons to get the attention of 2 women that he is sat with. He later leaves the reception, despite Justine asking him to stay the night, so that he can be with the two “Betty’s”.
Claire, is the counterpart to Justine. Where Justine is suffering from extreme depression, Claire is suffering anxiety and OCD, both actually visabley reliant on each other.
Justine wanders around aimlessly, lost and alone despite being in the throng of people. Being hounded by her work colleague to create the perfect tagline, despite it being her wedding day, giving some insight into the pressures she is actually under.
Her new husband Michael, appears to be almost defunct in the whole affair. Presenting her with a picture of an apple orchard, but after they are unable to consummate the marriage he seems to scarper pretty quickly in a quiet exit, perhaps depicting that he is unable to cope or deal with Justine’s depression.
No one at the wedding asks Justine what is wrong, no one really tries to help her. They all are showing the callousness of human nature and to look out for themselves. Justine possibly the biggest empath there as she has gone along with everything she does at work, the wedding, the fact that John paid for the wedding, her parents and how they are… so that she doesn’t affect anyone else. Taking all these pressures on to herself has caused her depression yet she has still tried to carry on.
The second scene with her bosses nephew in the sand trap leads the audience to think about how uncomfortable everything is. Out of the whole golf course she picks a surface which is ever shifting and uncomfortable to have sex on.
The Second Sequence
This is really more instrument to the character build up and their dependencies on each other as the plant melancholia takes its course.
I thought it was too obvious that the planet was called melancholia and it was a blue planet tinged with white and on a destructive path, but as an allegory for depression it works. Depression is self perpetuating and many people misunderstand it. Science can’t fully explain it and people make many judgements about it without really knowing or understanding its full effect on the person suffering.
Claire shows herself in this to be fastidious, and acts as the carer of Justine despite her own anxiety manifesting as the fear over the planet. John acts as the self created patriarchy that presided over his historical women counterparts despite being proved wrong time and again.
At the start of the second sequence, we see Claire trying to get Justine to adjust back to daily life, as she has hit rock bottom of her depression. Justine is like a marionette, being bathed and carried down for dinner as Claire painstakingly tries to get things right for her.
Justine, seems become less depressed as the planet gets nearer to Earth, but Claire’s fears accelerate as she reads social media theories about the course of the planet and the fact that it will double back on itself and destroy the Earth.
The two women complete very female tasks during this time such as gardening or exercising the horses, while John – the man of the house secretly gets supplies in case things don’t go quite to plan, still while he professes that science knows everything and has predicted that the planet will just pass by.
I should make a point about the horses here, as the one Justine rides is called Abraham, and he doesn’t like to cross a bridge which is on the grounds. Claire’s horse crosses the bridge with no problems, but Justine gets frustrated and beats the horse on one of their rides.
As Claire’s fears heighten, she buys some pills and hides them, which John finds. This is her way out should the time come that the planet will hit, which John dismisses.
As I previously mentioned John, while seemingly the authority on all things, he is generally wrong about them all, such as his perfect golf course which has 19 holes instead of 18, the planets course, the way he debunks anyone else’s theories… eventually he is proved so wrong that he takes the easy escape… suicide as he can’t bear to see how wrong he was and the final planetary collide, taking the pills that Claire bought. She finds his body in with Abraham, and rather than tell her son and Justine that he has killed himself she lets Abraham free and tells them John has gone for a ride.
Their housekeeper “Little Father” then doesn’t turn up for work, which Justine surmises that it is because he would rather spend the time with his family than come to work, for the end of the world.
Claire finally realises that the planet will collide with Earth, using a device that her son, Leo, had made to measure the size of the planet. They try to escape the estate on a golf buggy (one can only assume out of fear) but the buggy runs out of power before crossing the bridge.
Claire goes into meltdown, but Justine takes over. Explaining to Leo that they will make a magic cave where nothing can hurt them. They gather sticks and create a teepee style structure which they all sit in as the planet collides with Earth.
This is not a film to watch if a happy ending is what you are looking for, although there is something uplifting about Justine’s acceptance of the situation and her ability to deal with it thereafter, much like depression generally.
Trier says that there isn’t any particular symbolism in it, does lean towards a feminist, Christian debunking theme, much like the other 3 movies in this trilogy, but whether it was conscious or not, there is a clear subtext in the names used within the film which seems to lean towards this.
The names used and my perceived meaning of them…
Justine… fair or Just, but LVT says the inspiration for her name taken from a book of the same name where the character is struck by a lightning bolt from god… potentially supposed to be Eve.
Claire nickname Clay… indicative of Mother Earth.
Gaby (their mother)… Gabriel like the angel Gabriel.
Dexter… meaning to the right and performing the disappearing spoon trick… Jesus.
Michael… meaning in Hebrew he who is like God… potentially supposed to represent Adam. Especially presenting the orchard photo.
Little father… the faithful servant to Claire and John, but also represents those who have faith, favouring not turning up for work on the days leading to the collision and stays with his flock.
John… well he was one of the disciples but is constantly proved wrong. Possible the symbolism of modern man and science. He is just another John…
Jack… her boss and marked as a bad man… only after money… possible Judus.
Leo… the boy… innocent in all this but a damaged bystander… Leo being a word derived from lunar or the moon.
Abraham… the horse… won’t cross the bridge, gets beaten for his behaviour. The bridge possibly a representation of the crossing to Sodam and Gomorrah, and leaving Eden as the golf course and estate is the pinnacle of perfection.
This all leads to the days of Adam and Eve being cast out of their world in to the destruction of the wastelands.
Making the wedding an act almost like the last supper
It is interesting as how Justin’s depression seems to balance out as the planet gets closer, being the one who shows ultimate strength, keeping Claire and Leo calmer during their final moment. Almost as though she has already, nihilistically accepted their fate (she talks about knowing things before others) so creates the magic cave, for a sweep of fire to destroy everything (Sodom and Gamorrah burned), but she assists Claire and Leo to face the fear of total destruction… much like her depression has been for her.
Finally there are some very specific pictures used in this film, they are prevalent in the filming, and catch the audience’s eye as the film proceeds.
The Hunters in the Snow by Pieter Bruegel the Elder – Depressed hunters returning to a village empty handed. Their efforts fruitless… much like humans attempts on predicting the planets path. No one can predict what will happen on the hunt and science is proved wrong with the planets path. This just shows the efforts of man boiling down to nothing.
Ophelia by Sir John Everett Millais – Floating down the river in her dress to her death… this is just the representation of Justine and her depression.
David with the head of Goliath by Caravaggio – This painting is a haunting self portrait of Caravaggio, his face being the head of Goliath, and David being an image of his younger self. It is a painting about self destruction more than the biblical story.
All 4 films within the Depression Trilogy loosely link together, and the more I think about it the more I think Trier is a feminist… but he shows it in a very shocking almost opposed way. It is always the women who come out on top in his films despite the fact that they die, it is almost that they have the last laugh from beyond the grave.
Have you seen the film “Melancholia”? Why don’t you tell me what you thought in the comments? Like this post? Why not share it?