LexG Meets Melancholia

LexG drove out to the deepest West Valley the other day to confront Lars Von Trier‘s Melancholia ((Magnolia, 11.11) during its ultra-low-profile, Academy-qualifying L.A. engagement. I sat on his review for two or three days but here it finally is. He somehow manages to actually write about the film without going into his “woe is me, I needs me some white wimmin’ and if I don’t get what I need I’m gonna kill myself” routine. Very commendable.


Alexander Skarsgard, Kirsten Dunst in Melancholia.

“Functioning as almost a companion piece to his more outrageous Antichrist, Lars von Trier‘s Melancholia is an emotionally audacious movie of two halves. The first depicts the encroaching mental breakdown of depressed bride Justine (Kirsten Dunst) on a notably unhappy wedding day as a distant planet called Melancholia approaches Earth. The second half skips ahead as the Melancholia continues its ominous approach we witness the doomed last days of now-thoroughly-shut-down Justine along with her more functional but also emotionally ragged sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and Claire’s husband (Kiefer Sutherland) and young son (Cameron Spurr)

“Dunst and Gainsbourg deliver distinct, shattering characterizations, and that give-and-take contrast extends to the subtly audacious narrative as well. The two-part structure allows Von Trier to revisit and mirror certain motifs, images, and themes from the internalized Justine section (depicting mental anguish) again in the more sci-fi-ish, suspenseful and visual Claire segment, where the end of the world has become an externalized physical threat.

“It’s an auteurist triumph, bringing full circle the more pulpish elements of Von Trier’s earlier work with the emotional rawness of Breaking the Waves with just a little of the formal experimentation of his dogme years, but now with the impeccable visual panache of Antichrist.

“Dunst is the real deal here, functioning as LVT’s muse in a story that’s in a way almost first and foremost about the director’s own notorious mindset and provocations; Dunst has gone to the dark side before, most impressively in John Stockwell‘s crazy/beautiful, but this is a whole ‘nother level — an indelible portrait of complete dejection that’s easily the intensity-equal of Natalie Portman in Black Swan.

“Dunst is so good, in fact, it’s almost getting lost in the shuffle how raw Charlotte Gainsbourg is — the two performances, again, complement each other perfectly.

“Supporting cast is a veritable if unsurprising roll call of Von Trier-worthy maniacs, from Udo Kier to Charlotte Rampling to Jesper Christensen to John Hurt to the father-and-son Skarsgaards (Stellan and Alexander), but definitely worth noting is how easily Sutherland, perhaps taking a cue from his awesome old man’s roving-artist ’70s work, makes the transition to European Art Cinema in a decidedly un-Jack Bauer role.

“I’m not entirely sure where Brady Corbet managed to earn his ‘work with insane provocative overseas auteurs club’ card after Funny Games and this, but he pops up here doing his Rich Man‘s Kyle Gallner routine in the first half, wherein the cynical familial, corporate, and romantic relationships represent either a reason for, or a wonderfully indulgent justification of, Justine/Von Trier’s nihilistic despair.

“Others have cited a certain shared series of cinematic and thematic interest that recur between Melancholia, Another Earth and Tree of Life, but for my money this is the strongest of the bunch, the one that best melds the otherworldly implications of a giant perilous universe with the interpersonal breakdowns of its characters. But when they write the definitive film-summation book on 2011, lumping these three (and probable others to come) together might not be a bad place to start, this year almost starting to look like a more cosmic extension of last year’s dark ruminations on mortality (Enter the Void, Inception, Black Swan, Hereafter, etc etc.)

“In a nutshell: highly recommended.”

  • http://ebiri.blogspot.com Bilge Ebiri

    Nice review, Lex. See? That wasn’t so hard.

    Totally agree on crazy/beautiful, btw. One of the best performances of its decade.

  • MikeSchaeferSF

    Well done, Lex. I’m definitely seeing this one.

    But, is this really the only theatrical engeagement it’s going to get? is the 11/11 date for a Magnolia Picture On-Demand type thing?

  • Rashad

    I like reading Lex’s ruminations on movies, rather than the constant barrage of white women problems. I like it better when he just writes rather than get all fancy with the words and structure. Like Avon telling Stringer why he failed going legit: “They saw your ghetto ass coming from a mile away.” I don’t need the LOOK AT HERs but it’s like caging a cougar. The second to last paragraph is what I like the most.

    Is that Dunst or Gainsbourg on the rock?

  • TimDG

    There’s the LexG I like. Can’t wait to see the film.

  • Markj74

    Solid piece of criticism Lex, and pretty cool of Jeff to publish it despite your meltdown.

  • LexG

    “York” Laztongue_Groupie says:

    “You REWARD him for pissing all over your blog?!?!?!”

    The feedback on this sterling piece of criticism has been so immediately positive, I have a review at the LA Times tomorrow.

  • Los Bostonian

    Great work Lex, keep em coming.

  • Jason S.

    That was very good and makes me want to see the movie even more so then I already did.

    Now I want Lex to go all out on a movie he hated. What a read that would be. “The Smurfs” seems like it will do nicely.

  • Krazy Eyes

    Good review. If Lex only wrote reviews I would gladly read them but as it stands now I see his name at the top of a comment and immediately skip to the next one.

  • Luke Y. Thompson

    I want to see JEFF review The Smurfs, and doing so with the knowledge that Comic-Con crowds loathe it in equal measure.

    With Lex, there’s always the chance it’ll be redeemed by JAYMA MAYS POWER YEP YEP LOOOK AT HER.

  • The Hoyk

    The 11/11 date is the official L.A. theatrical opening of the film – probably NY too. But just like most of their product, it will be day/date with VOD, so in order to make it qualify for Oscar consideration, this quiet run in Fallbrook was done. Magnolia did the same trick in the same location last year, playing I AM LOVE in March before it’s official summer theatrical/VOD release; sadly, Tilda did not get the nomination she deserved.

  • LexG

    Magnolia– and everyone– should really stop with this VOD bullshit. It’s extremely LOW RENT, and does a disservice to movies like Melancholia that BEG to be seen in a theater.

    I know there are some supporters of VOD who think it’s great they can sit on their couch and watch a new movie that they don’t deem worthy of a trek to the plex, but that’s not what cinema is all about…

    And I also know that there’s people in 48 states who want to see these movies but probably never will get a chance, since they only play the coasts. But they’re still missing out watching art on PAY PER VIEW.

  • cyanic

    Aren’t you all about the new? VOD earns a solid profit for them. If theaters lowered their ticket prices I’d spend as much time as you do going to the movies and I’d get excited for everything but until them I have to give a good shit about the movie I’ll see theatrically.

  • The Criterion Guy

    C/B was shite. Dunst is a pothead.

  • The Criterion Guy

    NO reason to see films in theaters anymore. Too many assholes with hteir phones out and their Ipads too (yes, it’s happened more than once). Haven’t see a film in a theater at all this year and don’t miss it it one bit. I got my 60 inch and my BD player and kickass, motherfucking, cockshaking home theater. Nothing better.

  • bluefugue

    Nicely done, Lex.

  • Hollis Mulwray

    Cuban made his fortune fostering VOD technology. It only makes sense that Magnolia would embrace it.

  • Super Soul

    I like this character played by LexG a helluva lot more than his racist Romper Room caveman.

  • markj

    Solid piece of criticism Lex, and pretty cool of Jeff to publish it despite your meltdown.

  • The Thing

    Glad to see that Lex can step up and be the main hero, rather than just Jeff’s comic-relief sidekick.

    Although I did like the shout out to earlier days and included the clearly cell phone-captured naked Dunst.

  • Ray DeRousse

    Excellent, thoughtful, and carefully considered review, Lex! I wish it had a touch more of the fun you bring, but still … You did a great job with it, man!

  • Kakihara

    I wanna hear Lex’s best Herzog impersonation.

  • York “Budd” Durden

    Good to know that Lex can fake his way through a straight piece of film criticism. Oh! All is forgiven.

  • Owen Walter

    I enjoyed that. Stylistically, it needs work. Lex might want to go back and reread Pauline Kael, not for her opinions, which may or may not be his cup of tea, but for her style. She found ways of mixing high and low, the demotic and formal, that anyone can learn from. With Lex in his movie reviews, it looks as though the main stylistic tension will be between the desire to be perceptive and the aversion to anything that might label him as pretentious.

  • Edward

    Well done, Lex. This is a film that’s been on my radar. I hope it comes to my town.

  • Baron Munchausen-by-Proxy

    “I like reading Lex’s ruminations on movies, rather than the constant barrage of white women problems. I like it better when he just writes rather than get all fancy with the words and structure. Like Avon telling Stringer why he failed going legit: “They saw your ghetto ass coming from a mile away.” I don’t need the LOOK AT HERs but it’s like caging a cougar. The second to last paragraph is what I like the most.”

    Contradictory and contra-indicative half-sentences? Check. Inapt quote from a show he’s likely not seen or understood? Check.

    All in a full Rashad weekend at the computer…

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