I saw Melancholia twice in theaters. The first time I saw the movie was at an artsy theater in Indianapolis. The audience was quiet, focused, and alert, absorbing all of the subtle and profound emotions portrayed by Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg.
The second time was at a theater in a college town. The audience was loud, talkative, and arrogant. And they were definitely more intoxicated than the Indianapolis audience, which is weird because the artsy theater offered alcohol (and the university had a supposedly dry campus). Though, to be fair, I don’t blame the college students. If I was sporting a 1.5 GPA because of a moderate Call of Duty addiction and was going to see a movie about the slow demise of our planet, I’d probably drink too.
What intrigued me, however, was how the different audiences impacted my perception of the movie.
Before diving into that ocean of gaudy introspective self-praise, though, I need to explain a little about Melancholia. Lars von Trier‘s 2011 film is a beautiful juxtaposition of the emotional and mental struggles of two sisters and a newly discovered planet that likes to invade Earth’s personal space. Kirsten Dunst plays Justine, a personification of depression and doom. For the first half of the film, the audience watches Justine destroy her wedding bit by excruciating bit. The second half of the film follows Claire, Justine’s sister, as she tries to juggle Justine’s emotional state, a creepily quiet child, Jack Bauer, and a new planet that may end all life.
So when the booze-filled audience burped their laughs, I was surprised. Depression and interplanetary tango is not exactly comedic gold. But, in some ways, it worked. Melancholia offers a dark look at life on the edge (in more than one way), and sometimes mild laughter is a good way to deal with impending doom. Also, if good movies aren’t your preference and you get bored while watching this wonderful film, it’s sort of fun to imagine Spider-Man swooping in to save Kirsten. Or Kiefer Sutherland yelling at someone.
“Life is only on Earth. And not for long,” says Justine with tired eyes.
“Like Hell it is!” growls Jack Bauer, cocking his gun and running toward the sunset.
Lars von Trier: Director
Lars von Trier: Writer
Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, and Kiefer Sutherland: Stars