DVD Release – Melancholia

Bottom Line: Beautiful, epic, and relentless in its worldview, Melancholia is the logical and depressing end point of a philosophy that believes humanity is just a sad accident of the universe.

The Gist: Presented in two acts. The first shows Justine (Kirsten Dunst) trying and failing to care about her wedding. Pitch-black humor and wicked characterizations of people back up her suspicion that nothing matters and humanity is evil. The second act takes place as the Earth watches a giant planet that may or may not be on a collision course with our planet, one that would wipe out all life.

The only rational person in the movie is Justine, who knows and accepts that life is meaningless and the universe empty. The end of human existence for her is a consummation greatly to be desired.

Two points betray inherent contradiction in the film:  One, Justine is heroic and kind in her desire to spare her nephew fear as the world ends. So something does matter. One thing matters, him not feeling fear. The premise of the movie is nothing matters, but he matters very much, so there’s some contradiction there.

Secondly, Justine believes humankind to be completely evil (in line with the total depravity of man that Calvin taught, but I digress). Evil is a term and concept with meaning. If there is such thing as evil, then there must be something being violated. Evil matters. Evil cannot exist without some sort of existence of good.

MELANCHOLIA is the opposite side but the same coin as TREE OF LIFE. both look at the same cosmos, both deal with large themes and ideas, but reach inherently opposite conclusions.

The Verdict: Watch it. It’s artsy and mind-blowing and depressing, but it’s excellently made and it’s about ideas, which is more than we can say about “Mr. Popper’s Penguins.”

Be Aware: Rated R for graphic (but artsy) nudity, language, and sexual content. A grown-up movie for adults.

About Rebecca Cusey

Rebecca is a lead critic and editor of entertainment at Patheos. Follow her on Twitter @Rebecca_Cusey

  • ME

    It’s been a while since I watched the movie so I could be wrong. I think of Justine and Von Trier as nihilists. That world view doesn’t mean nothing matters to individuals, does it? A person can live their life with passion and meaning whether or not they believe God exists. So, I don’t think the first contradiction you mention is actually a contradiction.

    Even though I’m a believer, I like movies that put forward the nihilist world view, like Melancholia and a lot of Woody Allen movies, because they provide an accurate representation of the theology most of society adheres to, whether they admit it or not.

    Nice review! “Relentless in its world view” is a great description.

  • Rebecca Cusey

    I think there’s a philosophy that says an individual can live their life with passion and meaning if they don’t believe God exists. Yes.

    I don’t know about von Trier in his life, but in the movie, that’s not what’s happening. There is no passion or meaning in Justine’s life. She can’t even follow through on love. She can’t bring herself to care about anything. At one point, she can’t get out of bed, feed herself, or bathe. Nothing matters. Nothing. People keep saying it’s a portrait of depression, which I sort of recognize, except for one thing. Justine ends up being absolutely correct. She rallies and becomes the most heroic and rational person in the movie because the universe proves her correct. Her wedding, her job, even her very body mean exactly nothing.

    I agree absolutely with you about movies that put forward an honest take on nihilism. Have you seen “The Invention of Lying?” It’s the manifesto of Ricky Gervais and his atheism. It’s one of the most honest movies I’ve ever seen.

    Personally, I’d much rather have teens watch that (although it does have a fair amount of sexual content, just to caveat) than any number of Christian culture movies. “Melancholia” is the same way. This is what people believe and this is where it leads. Let’s talk about that.

    Thanks for the comment. Fun to hear from someone who’s watched the film.

  • ME

    Hmmm, I agree with your characterization of Justine. But, if a nihilist can have passion why is it a contradiction for Justine to care about her nephew? To me, it’s a good characterization of an existential nihilist. She finds a truth that is true for her. She doesn’t care about any of that stuff that you mention, she just cares about the nephew because that’s who she is. I feel I’m just being nitpicky!

    “This is what people believe and this is where it leads.” Yeah, exactly. It hasn’t been pointed out enough that the “theology” western civilization runs on is nihilism and almost never, ever, is it shown where it leads. Instead, what we get are movies with a nihilist theology (almost every movie) and a Hollywood ending slapped on the end. Now that’s a contradiction!

    I haven’t seen “Invention of Lying.” I like Gervais but the negative reviews I saw kind of turned me off to watching it. I’ll check it out, thanks for the tip.

    • Rebecca Cusey

      Interesting…so not caring is just as meaningless as caring, so you just do whatever? That makes sense.

      Good thoughts! Please let me know what you think of The Invention of Lying if you see it.

  • ME

    Watched Invention of Lying over the weekend. What struck me about the first half of the movie was Gervais’ assessment of a world without lying. I bet most people would imagine that world as being a much better place yet he has what must be about the most pessimistic view one could possibly come take. It’s no surprise someone with that kind of attitude would be blind to God. In the beginning the premise of the movie just really rubbed me the wrong way. But, when he wrote his commandments on the pizza box it sort of turned a corner for me.

    I think he made a pretty good case for the skeptical argument against the existence of the God of the Bible. Not many movies really put it out there so bluntly, how almost crazy it is to really believe in the God in the Bible, how big a leap of faith at first it really is. If the truth will set you free, then I think his movie is probably doing as much good for Christians as atheists.

    As far as atheist/agnostic comedies go, though, I think Woody Allen movies are a lot more generous in spirit, more interesting, and better philosophically developed than Gervais’ movie.

    • Rebecca Cusey

      It’s been a while since I watched it, but what really struck me was the guy who was always wanting to commit suicide. And Gervais’s character was always like, yeah, it’s probably a good idea.

      Hope is an illusion. What a difficult world to live in.

      I agree about Woody Allen movies being more generous. There’s nothing generous about The Invention of Lying.

  • Pingback: Passion Movies: Melancholia and Tree of Life for Easter


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