14 October 2011
Melancholia is Lars Von Trier’s homage to time.
How? Let me elaborate.
The sudden appearance of a celestial object, hurtling at mind-blowing speed to Earth throws in an extra element to how we measure time. As Earth winds his way around the Sun and the Moon does the same around the Earth, time moves in an unstoppable crash-course to infinity (technically speaking it is a finite infinity, but for practical purposes we shouldn’t really worry about the inevitable end of the Sun). Von Trier injects a new variable into this equation by the name of Melancholia - the hitherto unknown planet, hiding behind the Sun (let’s just put science aside for a minute).
This new object is approaching Earth and will provide the Earthlings the greatest show on … well … Earth. But it also acts as a countdown. For the first time in their lives, the Earthlings as a commune will experience time as a finite concept. Yes, our individual lives are finite, but the belief in an afterlife is the faithful’s means to prolong their existence (albeit in a completely different medium). So, in essence, the majority of Earthlings see their lives as an infinite state of being, with a finite beginning.
Melancholia posits a new sense of understanding of life - that it has a finite beginning and an ending. Time runs out. Nothing is forever. As Kirsten Dunst’s Justine tells his sister “Life on Earth is not for long”.
So it is no surprise that Von Trier openly references one of the greatest cinematic treatises on the concept of time: Last Year at Marienbad. Not unlike Marienbad, Melancholia’s characters suddenly find themselves in a world where past, present and future all become a single entity. A no-time. This is all the more apparent in Justine’s fierce denial of her future, in her transingent efforts to bring past to present and in her avoidance of the present.
Von Trier dabbled in similar territory with the berserk Europa, but Melancholia feels more urgent. Even in the most mundane and seemingly incongruous scenes, the finality of the characters’ existence makes for a tough, but equally astonishing, viewing.