Sunday, May 20, 2012

A Feminist Review: Melancholia

The aptly named newest Lars Von Trier film, Melancholia, is a startlingly feminist film, despite, or perhaps in spite of, his traditionally absurd and sexistremarks about women.

Melancholia is obviously known as a vague depression and was traditionally associated with women, indicating again its suitability for a film that revolves around the final days of a mentally ill woman and her sister, as a giant planet named Melancholia races to earth. It takes no great stretch of the imagination to understand that the planet that just happens to be named after a morose malaise is also bringing out the exact same malady in it’s emotive protagonist, Justine (Kirsten Dunst).

Not only does the film pass the Bechdel test with flying colors (there are multiple women with names who do lots of talking about things other than men), but it also offers an incredibly moving portrayal of the effects of depression and schizophrenia on those suffering from the issue and their families. In one especially moving scene, Justine is being helped into a bathtub by her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg), who is patiently urging her to just take one step into the water: try as she might, no matter how hard she attempts to lift her leg, she collapses next to the bath in tears, exhausted by the effort.

Obviously the crux of the movie revolves around the sisters’ relationship, showing their moments of love and support towards one another, followed by periods of anger and lack of understanding. I particularly admired the final moments of the film where it’s obvious that the two women still don’t see eye to eye, but ultimately find redemption in each other’s company and, I believe, offer a hopeful ending to the mournful movie.

One thing that also impressed me about the film was its ability to effectively discuss and incorporate both sexes in a realistic manor. Often, it seems that a film can only portray one sex accurately at a time (obviously there are exceptions, but as rule I think it holds true), however Melancholia’s male leads were also unique and full of their own strengths and weaknesses. Most notably, Kiefer Sutherland as Gainsbourg’s wealthy, but level-headed husband who shows both great generosity to his wife’s ill sister and great cowardice in the final moments of the film, and Alexander Skarsgard as Dunst’s na├»ve new husband, who’s gentleness and optimism in believing that he can take away his wife’s depression is both sweet and all-too-common.

Additionally, perhaps this is just my love of E.M. Forster surfacing, but Melancholia reminded me of his fabulous novel (and the Emma Thompson/Anthony Hopkins film), Howards End, which also deals with the same themes of sisterhood, redemption, the breakdown of social structures, and our mental and physical compulsions.

Melancholia is exceptionally slow moving, definitely feeling  like the two hours that it is, however the acting is phenomenal, the cinematography and landscape gorgeous (and also reminiscent of Victorian England), and possessing a detailed and realistic dialogue; There are even some moments of very delicate humor, (enjoy the opening scene involving a very long limousine and a very small driveway).

On the whole I think the film is an impressive piece of movie making and well-worth the slow-moving plot to see an excellent handling of mentally illness and the films overarching theme: isolation.

Be aware that the film does contain several instances of nudity (none sexual), a disturbing scene of a female raping a man, and some language.

What do you think of the film? Was it a feminist film? Does the absurd things that von Trier says about women influence your experience of the movie? Would it stop you from seeing it entirely?

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