Melancholia is a fantastic film. Don’t see it if you are getting married in three days, or if you have a history of emotional problems. In many ways it is poisonous. People with low self-esteem often seek out partners that belittle them, thinking that they’ve finally found someone who will honestly show them their own flaws, clinging to a bad relationship like obsessively peering into a cracked mirror. This movie could be that for people with depression. If you’ve got a panic disorder, you might avoid it as well. It’s there to confirm your darkest fears and revel in the confirmation.
The film opens with a tableau of the end of the world. We spend long final moments with heavy image after heavy image- one of which is the burning of Bruegel’s Hunters in the Snow from the pages of an art history book. The painting already has a powerful presence in film- Tarkovsky uses it as a sort of portal back to Earth in his science fiction film Solaris, plunging his camera into it and exploring it from beyond the confines of a sterile space station. It’s a connection to the nurturing oceanic feeling that Tarkovsky has towards man, nature, and his own spirituality. Tarkovsky’s alien world ultimately reaches out to man, probes about his secret longings and strives to make a connection between the human and the cosmic. Von Trier’s destruction of the painting is hugely loaded. His alien world is an enormous bludgeon that wipes out mankind in an instant and barely flinches. This could certainly happen, there’s no denying it. But this destruction is so matter of fact, and so devoid of any sort of solace, that there’s almost a sadism to it. A smirking delight in seeing others realize what he has always known, that that-which-we-fear-most always comes to pass, that depression is simply the natural sense of this, and in not being able to find comfort or joy himself, assumes that no cogent argument for joy can be made, and that anyone who professes happiness or purpose is a liar or a fool, keeping the status quo. The closest we are given to comfort is when our protagonist tells a child a comforting lie before the end comes.
The correct, but unsatisfying answer to all this is that depression is an illness, and as rational as a depressed or paranoid person is, and as truthful their predictions of doom, they’re still suffering to see the world through a muddy lens, and it doesn’t have to be that way. Impending doom, rather than making everything inconsequential and meaningless, gives us the freedom to live fearlessly and freely. Because if the thing you fear most must happen, then there’s no reason to fear it.
This film has wonderful performances, beautiful cinematography and effects, but it is a very dark variety of disaster porn that pushed all my buttons at once, with no solutions to its own posed problems, and no refrain but despair.