Melancholia is LVT's Wagnerian opera. Justine is a mythological creation. She is the white goddess, Diana bathing, la Belle Dame Sans Merci, Cassandra tormented by futurity. It ends in Gottedammerung, the destruction of the world.
The Cannes jury was right to honour it. In 2, 10 or 100 years this will be manifestly THE film of 2011, capturing as it does this precise historical moment, on the cusp of epochs. More than just an economic crisis, or even the end of Western capitalism, or the American Century, or of Europe - though it is all that - it is the consummation in fire of all we have ever known. Leaders and experts sit mesmerised and powerless, making reassuring noises, or setting aside puny provisions; taking shelter in denial or custom. While Melancholia and Earth act out their dance of death; gravity, the most ineluctable force in the universe, does its work.
Justine, being incapable of happiness, is therefore incapable of illusion. She has always known. Herself untouched by affect, by human assimilation or persuasion, she writes the killer tag lines which manipulate others. Having a damaged soul, she suffers from a disorder of perception - she sees things as they actually are. She knows precisely how many beans are in the jar -like those who called the top of the Dow Jones index, at 12807 exactly. On one level, she represents the spirit of financialisation, the final, hottest white dwarf phase of capitalism, quantifying, inhumane, ultra-competitive (seen also in Skaarsgard's brutal ad boss, and in the brother-in-law who paid for the wedding - "an arm and a leg, for most people" -he means it literally I think - chilling!) And, like the Sybil, Justine wants to die. She wills the destruction of herself and everything else. 'The Earth is evil.'
LVT is the holy idiot of European cinema. Much as Justine destroys her stellar career, then hours later, in the garden, consciously and irrevocably obliterates her marriage and future happiness, so LVT - in the most perfect example of parallel process - in his acceptance speech at Cannes compulsively befouls himself, his credibility, future opportunities, his film and all associated with it. (Poor Dunst, beside him. Did she always know? I wonder.)
Which brings me to Kirsten Dunst.Once the all-American teenage sweetie in some of my favourite films.(The US invented the teenager, much as the English Victorians invented childhood, and its richest and most creative seam of film and TV deal with this stage of life. In a way, America is the world's teenager; and all teenagers are Americans by proxy.) In fact, Dunst is German-American, with all the ancestral baggage that implies. (Read Sylvia Plath's 'Daddy' if you don't know what I mean). Beneath the apple-pie sunny exterior of her teen roles, there was always something remote and uncanny about her beauty. And now, with teen / young adult roles behind her, this strangeness, this well, German-ness, is exposed. In the riveting opening shots of 'Melancholia' she looks like Marlene Dietrich - unheimlich, fascinating. Like la Belle Dame Sans Merci, she takes possession of a man through his unconscious: like the groom in the film, he will follow her, exchanging all that is dear - home, family and hope of happiness - for bitterness and despair.
In the scene in the limo, the earliest, lightest part of the story, she seems American, in accent, face, body, She becomes less American , more northern European, and ultimately less like a human being at all, as her story unwinds. Those who criticise the inconsistency in her accent are missing the point. The change is about the character, not her nationality, which is purposely vague. (In fact, in what country does the film take place? Would you ask that question of 'the Ring'?)
I get the impression that just as Lars is working through some issues around his German-ness – hence the Wagnerianism -, so is Dunst, which must have made his Cannes performance doubly excruciating. (I hear she wants to be called 'Keersten' now, pronounced the German way.) For the girl who has been being other people superbly well from her childhood, it seems to me that Dunst the adult truly exposes something painfully real of herself in this film. ('Exposing' is the right word in every way.)
And she pulls it off. The film is stunning. She is stunning, and thoroughly deserves Best Actress. Bravo, Lars von Trier!
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