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Melody Breyer-Grell

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Melancholia on Zoloft or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Appreciate Lars von Trier

Posted: 12/07/11 06:27 PM ET

I just completed watching Lars von Trier's operatic (literally, as the score is mostly Wagner) planetary meditation for the second time and I find myself luxuriating in the wonders of the world of music and film. Since taking Zoloft (can I say that?) my perceptions of existence have altered somewhat from seeing things in black and white (example being: "Lars Von Trier is an anti-American Eurotrash poseur"), to shades of gray: "Hey, this guy might be onto something."

For anyone who does not know the the plot of this picture by now, I will keep it simple. The world is coming to an end. We know this because the prelude (or dumb show) wraps that up in the first few minutes with a glorious tableaux of the bridal-gowned Justine (Kirsten Dunst), her little nephew Leo and sister Clair (Charlotte Gainsborough) standing witness to a rogue planet crashing into the Earth, leading us to believe total destruction of our planet and all life forms is inevitable.

This fantastical piece is followed by a wedding from hell, certainly not a Jewish one, to be sure. It is dry and dull and although the bride seems game at first -- after her parents act out, her sister obsesses on her, and her husband appears to be a bore, her innate clinical depression sets in as she tells her boss (in advertising) to take a flying leap. She is one hot-mess.

Not long after this disastrous affair she is delivered (by cab) back to her brother-in-law's (John) magical castle, an oasis that very conveniently has 18 holes of golf, as he keeps reminding her. Rich as the Koch Brothers, he is pissed off at the cab fare, but she is a major bummer. There are more issues here than her now crippling depression though. Her sister's nervousness is righteous as she (against hubby's instructions) surfs the Internet, researching predictions regarding the fate of Earth and planet Melancholia. It is set to pass the our planet in five days. Will it hit or miss? This scenario is a survivalist's dream or nightmare, depending on the outcome, which our auteur did try to clarify in the opening sequence.

Von Trier has stated that the idea for this picture came to him as he was receiving treatment for severe clinical depression. Depression is almost a right of passage for a large percentage of people in the arts and although arguably (only arguable by people who don't know s*&t about depression) genetic and chemical, people with this disease are hard to be around because part of depression is having your editors down. Depressives are actually more realistic than "healthy" people. Missing the chemicals in their heads to help ward of negative thoughts and obsessions they are often compelled to make sense of it all by attempting to create works of art.

Happily medicated, but still remembering (sometimes) how bleak everything has looked, I have been able to cull beauty and even hope from this apocalyptic time bomb.

Our non-hero is the very controlling yet almost sympathetic,"scientifically" minded brother --in-law -- the ultra-American Kieffer Sutherland. Hmm, was this a more subtle way for Von Trier to rag on the Yanks than inDogville? Anyway, Kieffer gently rails on, addressing the infallibility of science, assuring his family that all will be ok. It is really touching. The passing planet will be a stupendous experience to observe -- then it will move on with life returning to normalcy.

Justine will have none of that (she knows things) and as the evidence of doom grows she becomes stronger as the other characters fall apart.

"The earth is evil. We are alone, no one else is out there" Yada, yada, yada, she prophecies,
though she ultimately evolves into a pillar of comfort and empathy, aiding her diminishing family in preparations for the final event.

So why was I able to take in this film and then dance around not being one bit depressed?

The obvious assets to list are the repetitive strains of my beloved Wagner, the hallucinatory beauty and color of the film with the pitch perfect performance of Dunst (though wallowing in her pain, provided much pleasure with her beautifully posed nude goddess tableau on a rock, near the climax of the story.)

With all the above being noted, the real pleasure I took from the film was that with a bit of a mental health adjustment or some good old time spirituality and or science, I was able to find a redemptive message to this film.

As the planets were moving toward each other in the prelude, they appeared to me as a pair of lovers in an act of great courtship and sensuality culminating with an ultimate union of cells, rather than the destruction off all things living. Was not the Earth and life itself evolved by a series of explosions and cataclysmic events culminating in what and who we are today? Maybe it is time to clean house and start again.

Rather than accepting the finale as the end of times, I saw the essential necessity of the "cycle of life" being carried elsewhere -- choosing to believe we are not alone. (This just in, an Earth-like planet was discussed in the Science Times yesterday!)

I just feel (and I am backed up by "science" in this) that the purging and rebuilding as indicated at the end of Wagner's Ring Cycle (The Twilight of The Gods) is the actual truth...a notion upheld by "true believers," properly medicated mental patients and science fiction devotees.

Maybe a Brave New Word is not such a bad idea...