Saturday, November 12, 2011

Melancholia (Spoiler Alert)

I rarely bother with science fiction movies. I don't care if our planet is about to be blown up or the world is about to end in some even sillier way — when the whole cast is wearing polyester unisex uniforms, like they do on the Starship Enterprise, I feel they deserve everything that's coming at them.

And in these movies, the world never ends anyway. It gets saved at the last minute, always a huge letdown. I went to Independence Day eager to see the world blow up and the screen go black. It never did; I felt robbed. That was probably the last science-fiction movie I saw except for The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

But tonight we saw Melancholia, which I consider a science-fiction film with elements of black humor, although other viewers find it a typical Lars von Trier–style downer. It's a Lars von Trier movie, after all. But I still found it funny. Kirsten Dunst plays Justine, an alien bride. This is my interpretation, which others may disagree with. But here's my proof. She looks nothing like the rest of her family, who are all dark, tortured, and weird, while she's blonde, tortured, and out of control. There's more obvious proof of alien-hood: her parents and sister have British accents and never crack a smile while she's a giggling, grinning American. She also has special powers: She can correctly guess the number of dried beans in a bottle. And she knows the world is evil and is about to end. And finally, the kicker: she's a bride and she doesn't give a damn about a single detail of her high-class reception. If that's not alien behavior, what is?

The movie begins with a lot of surrealist foreshadowing that's visually stunning when you're not squinting because the soundtrack is too loud and the score keeps beating you about the head with WAGNERIAN OMINOUSNESS. Then we crash the wedding reception — my idea of hell, as the happy couple arrives two hours late and everyone is starving and antsy. Then the bride has a series of bizarre meltdowns with back-up vocals from her family. It will make any bad reception you ever find yourself attending seem perfect by comparison; it's worth seeing this movie for that comfort alone. I had a good time trying to guess how things would deteriorate further without von Triers resorting to clichés like food poisoning, fistfights, or killing off the groom.

After the reception ends, the world ends, which is less amusing but visually lovely. (Some of the people with me found it most lovely when Kirsten Dunst got naked.) It seems to take forever, though. It drags on until you're rooting for it to happen. End already! I couldn't wait. FINALLY, planets collide and the screen goes fireball white and then black. And the titles appear. This is exactly what should happen in any self-respecting sci-fi movie, but they always chicken out.

We can safely assume there won't be a sequel.

I found it engrossing overall, although it had a few little jarring problems. Justine works in advertising, but she and her boss and Mr. von Trier have never so much as watched an episode of Mad Men or they'd know that a copywriter can't be "promoted" to art director, even on her wedding day. (They are mutually exclusive career tracks, although both types can be promoted to creative director.)  That's either inexcusable cluelessness and lack of research or further proof that Justine and her creepy boss are really aliens pretending they work together. There's also a lot of jittery, hand-held camerawork that caused varying degrees of queasiness in the people who saw it with me. I never noticed, I was too busy waiting for the screen to go black. For me, that was the only point; the rest was often-exquisite filler.

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