It was like waking from a dream: my producer showed me a suggestion for a poster. As in 'Antichrist', 'Melancholia' opens with an overture – a series of sequences and stills which, to the overture of 'Tristan and Isolde', partly shows Justine's own visions of the wonderful end of the world, partly the most dramatic grand-scale images of the cosmic collision. I thought it would be fun to take the images out of the context and begin with them instead, « he says and adds with a smile: »That gets rid of the aesthetic side in one full blow«. So I think the film is slightly on the edge of plastic. the first part is called 'Justine' and deals with the melancholic sister and her wedding. In the start she is toying with it all in an off-hand manner, because she feels so on top of things that she can poke fun at it. Not to her.« »It's a great shame that we melancholiacs don't value rituals. And there's more of a party if we have coloured festoons. But if the rituals are empty, that is: if it's no longer fun to get Christmas presents or see the joy of the kids, then the whole ritual about dragging a tree inside the living room becomes empty.« »Is the emperor wearing any clothes at all? She is longing for pathos and drama, Lars von Trier explains. But I can't help seeing it all as a mean streak.« »Misery, dammit! »That's why she wants to get married,« says Lars von Trier. You get up in the morning, go for your walks, go to work and search the world for new flashes of interest to be unfolded in images that may even add to the cinematic vocabulary.
Later, presumably in a TV documentary, he saw that Saturn is the planet for melancholia, and, searching the internet, he suddenly came across a web page about cosmic collisions. And, typically, we would have made an image of special effects of something we found would happen at such a collision, even though the plot itself just hints at the disaster in close ups. « The empty rituals of reality After the initial doomsday ballet, the film falls in two parts. And they all try to bring her ashore, but she doesn't really want to be part of it.« »She's not serious about the wedding. Perhaps because melancholiacs set the stakes higher than at just a few beers and some music. But if rituals are worth nothing, that goes for everything, you know.« »If there's some value beyond the rituals, that's fine. And if there's something inside and beyond, I can relate to the ritual. And that's what Justine sees every time she looks at that fucking wedding. She has submitted to a ritual without a meaning.« »The others don't mind, they just go around and feel that the ritual is nice.« Longing for reality The melancholic Justine isn't just longing. We prefer music and art to contain a touch of melancholia. Unhappy and unrequited love is more romantic than happy love. « »If it could happen in an instant, the idea appeals to me. »So if the world ended and all the suffering and longing disappeared in a flash, I'm likely to press the button myself. Then people might say: how nasty, what about all the lives that wouldn't be lived? And when you enjoy a spring day, that too is a kind of melancholy.« The wedding is Justine's last attempt to fight her way back into life instead of longing herself out of it. She's a melancholiac, and we are ever longing, you know. « The nymphomaniac In Lars von Trier's case, the answer is simple.
In 'Melancholia' he grapples with melancholia itself. But even though his take-off is his own depression, the idea developed during a conversation and a letter exchange with actress Penélope Cruz who wanted to make a film with him. Then you don't have to mourn the things you lose,« he says and adds with a little laugh: »But on the whole, they are pretty unpleasant to one another. They all let each other down.« I perceive the sisters' relationship as very loving. And to get to that, you need to look beyond the polish.« »But the worst thing to happen was when they said at Nordisk Film: There are some beautiful images,« he laughs. For if I make a film that they like at Nordisk Film, I'll stop tomorrow! The approaching planet does provide some fundamental suspense, at least. But then again, I was going through a bad time during 'Antichrist',« he says. »Charlotte Gainsbourg said something that pleased me very much. »That was lovely, because I was worried that 'weird' was somehow lacking a bit.« »Well, I am afraid that it has turned out too 'nice'. The style is polished, but underneath the smooth surface, there's content. »I had more fun making this film, and I've been far more present. She really pulls that off rather well.« If you ask Trier what he thinks of the film, it is more difficult to get an answer. But I've seen it so many times that I can't see it anymore,« he says and hesitates for a moment or two. You can skate across the polished surface in this film. And as he is lying there on the couch in his black hooded sweatshirt and his grey beard, he seems even more cheerful. And the collaboration, says Lars von Trier, was a pleasant surprise. She is much more nuanced than I thought and she has the advantage of having had a depression of her own. How she was present and smiling, but with a completely blank stare. I mean, exactly when are you indulging in romance with Wagner, and when is it just … It's just harder to get down to than with 'Antichrist', because the surface is so polished.« »That's what I mean. ’ I cling to the hope that there may be a bone splinter amid all the cream that may, after all, crack a fragile tooth ... Journalist Nils Thorsen, author of last year’s ’The Genius – Lars von Trier’s Life, Films and Phobias’, has spoken with the director in March, while Lars von Trier was putting the last touches on ’Melancholia’. Indeed the ending was what was in place from the outset when he started to work on the idea of 'Melancholia', just as he immediately knew that the audience needed to know it from the first images of the film.
So what ends in our planet's cosmic embrace with the ten times bigger planet, Melancholia, is life as such and our recollection of it. And, as Trier remarks with a black humour germane to him: »In a way, the film does have a happy ending.« It is no coincidence that we begin at the end with a sunny day in spring, when everything seems to start all over again in lush green, and I visit the director in his mix of an office and a living room on the outskirts of the Film Town in Avedøre near Copenhagen.
Not just the guests at the grand wedding held in the first part of the film at an ever-so-romantic castle surrounded by a golf course. For in the world evoked by the Danish film maker this time, we are absolutely alone in the universe.
»I'd like a clash between what is romantic and grand and stylized and then some form of reality. But the problem was that we had a magnificent castle in Sweden, and when you add a wedding with all the guests in gala and tux, it can hardly avoid becoming ... The other bears the title 'Claire' and covers the countdown to the end. But slowly, melancholia descends like a curtain between her and all the things she has set in motion. »She thinks: now I'm forcing my way through the rituals and some truth may issue from it. »You can hardly imagine that there isn't life any other place. »But then the sisters aren't all that different from one another. It has the considerable side effect that the director can keep his melancholy somehow at bay. When books have a red thread, they only brush it momentarily!
On the edge of plastic Throughout most of the year when I interviewed the director, his mood gradually improved as the work progressed. But they have been two, and they become one.« The last film in the world Before the shooting started, Penélope Cruz cancelled because of other engagements and Kirsten Dunst got the lead instead. First and foremost she had taken photos of herself in that situation so I could see how she looked. And I hope people will find something beyond the polish, if they really look for it.
He sought inspiration at museums, listened to music and mentioned snippets of thoughts in bits and bobs, images and plot segments which I now find have reached the screen. »My analyst told me that melancholiacs will usually be more level-headed than ordinary people in a disastrous situation, partly because they can say: 'What did I tell you? »But also because they have nothing to lose.« And that was the germ of 'Melancholia'. Less than a year later, the script was written, the actors found and the crew in the process of shooting. I had a wonderfully unpolished feeling with 'Antichrist'. All the time, I meant it to be polished in some way.
The first time I called on Lars von Trier in connection with our book, he was looking for an idea for his next film. The work consisted of scheduled walks and office hours with the aim of gradually pulling himself out of the depression that struck him some years earlier. He drags himself through the times when he is not making films and could actually just enjoy life, but is at his best when the shit hits the fan and everything depends on him. Not to mentions the cinematic language itself, which at best must be supplied with a few neologisms along the way while he is looking for some sore toes of culture, politics or ethics that he can step on, as he will do.