There's something missing from Lars von Trier's drama Melancholia: with the carefully chosen art and music, this should not be an incomplete film (and I'm not referring to the ending); the "still life" images of the beginning, prophesying for the viewer what is going to happen by the end, all reflect that wonderful theory known as chaos; the careful gestures of the actors deeply imbued with meaning and insight into their characters and their emotional states contributes to what should be a complete statement, and if we the viewer can't make it a complete statement, Trier seems happy to help us along with it with momentary breaks in the traditional narrative to offer beautiful and abstract sub-current commentary.
Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) should be taken as to "clarify"; Justine (Kirsten Dunst) invokes "justice" but also the cruelty suffered by the girl in the Marquis de Sade's sadistic novel of the same name; between the two sisters and their strained relationship, that something missing from the film is also missing from their relationship: love. Melancholia presents us with a world wherein love is not an option, love doesn't exist.
Michael obviously loves Justine, why doesn't it work out between them? The "bean counting" at the reception entrance is far more important than we imagine, because Michael's answer, that there is over 2 million beans in the jar, is just like his outlook on Justine, that there is far more love within her than what there is. As Michael leaves her, Justine asks him, "What did you expect?" and Michael expected bliss and total happiness, 2 million beans worth. Conversely, Justine knowing exactly how many beans are in the jar doesn't mean she "knows things" because at the end, she doesn't get the prize either, the prize isn't important to her so it's even worse for Justine who claims to know but doesn't act on it.
In conclusion, as always, this is a rich film offering a variety of interpretations, but also a lesson, that I am willing to take: either I can love and make sacrifices I need to in order not to become like the characters in the film, or I can become like the characters in the film and bring my sadness to destroy everyone I encounter. Why do I need Christianity for survival? Because there are times, as the film shows us, that love means sacrifice, and not doing or doing something we don't want to will provide "shelter" for someone we love, and a wooden tepee makes a poor shelter. Christianity is the religion of love and teaches us how to avoid becoming like those who wreck the wedding, no matter the "arm and a leg" the wedding costs.
|Ophelia by painter John Everett Millais, the inspiration for the film's poster art pictured above, from Shakespeare's play Hamlet. Not only did it inspire the poster art, but Justine, when she's in the study/library, and takes books and starts changing the showing pictures in the viewing shelves, specifically puts up this picture. Why does she do this? The paintings on the viewing shelves were abstracts previously (no, I apologize, I cannot identify them and there were no citations for them in the closing credits; my initial thoughts were that they were Wassily Kandinsky's later works [given his emphasis on the idea of an artist as a prophet, that theoretically fits the setting] but I am not fluent enough in abstract art to identify them [if I do, I will post it herein]) and Justine changes the abstract works to scenes that are pictorial, containing recognizable human elements in them, such as Ophelia herself (the other paintings are identified below). Why dos Trier do this? Like Justine changing the images, Trier is changing us from abstractions to a more concrete storyline, the irony is, it's still abstract to us, but if we know how to read the art Justine places up for our viewing, then it fills in the gaps. If Justine is meant to inhabit the sphere of Ophelia, over what lover has she committed suicide? Not Michael, her new husband, and she rejects Ben's offer of going into business together,...is it possible that there is a bridegroom in the film that doesn't make a showing (yes, I am being ambiguous). In Hamlet, Ophelia is said to have climbed out on a willow branch which broke and she drowned; we do see Justine, by the water, naked and sprawled out, but she didn't crawl upon a tree (the Cross of Christ) and that lacking in Justine of her love for Michael or for God (she took Michael as her husband but then didn't love him, but she also didn't "get herself to a nunnery" as Hamlet advised Ophelia to worship God as her Husband). There is an image opposite Ophelia in the book Justine opens, a man and woman in a forest sitting, one of them wearing red; I am confident that is another John Millais, however, I can't identify which one at this point.|
|The Hunters In the Snow, or The Return of the Hunters (1568) by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, one of the paintings Justine places upon the viewing shelf. The painting was done at a time of religious upheaval in the Netherlands; because the painting is obviously a winter scene but "contains no religious element," it is popular for holiday Christmas cards. The questions is, does it, or is the very lack of religious imagery the painting's condemnation? (Please click on the image to view an enlarged version for closer viewing). The hunters are returning, but where is the game from their successful hunt? The hunters are coming back empty handed. Although the people ice-skate below on the frozen lakes, the lakes are frozen (Grace is frozen and not flowing through to the people) the lakes are being used for recreation and celebration, not for sources of life; Bruegel depicts winter, not the spring time of new life, rather, the season when life has died. Above everything in the painting, literally, are the black birds, hanging about, symbols of death and Death, and so our understanding should be, above all else in the painting, an understanding of Death (not to mention what happens in the film). Given this, we could consider the furnace in the far-left center of the painting to possibly be a furnace for "making a false god," as Aaron did in the Wilderness with the golden calf; there are other Dutch paintings of hidden meaning like Paulus Potter's The Young Bull which can be taken as an indictment against religious reforms of the time (the bull in the painting is a composite of several bulls at different ages, so this bull could not exist, just as the golden calf was a composite image of different pieces of gold, so the painting symbolizes the taking of what you like in religion, putting it altogether, then having something that doesn't really exist).|
|What is the meaning of the "magic cave" Leo and Justine construct? They strip down branches, that isn't a necessary step for what they are going to do, but the stripped branches symbolizes "stripped down Christianity" and even refers to the branches Ophelia fell from and drowned in the water. The tepee is, of course, a Native American home/shelter, and is non-Christian in reference, suggesting that the religion of nature is all that's left to Justine since Love is nowhere present in the film; just as no one thinks of praying as the worlds collide into total destruction, so the tepee can't offer them any protection and they have nothing but the most elementary levels of love to try and wait until their deaths. THIS IS NOT AT ALL A CRITIQUE of Native American religion, rather, there are numerous Christian symbols in the film that are neglected by the characters intentionally, and the very last retreating into a tepee and a religion of "nature" instead of a religion of Love that would have saved everyone in the film, because the planets are, in the final analysis, symbolic of the destruction each one of us causes and brings to our relationships when we fail in love, just like the characters in the film.|