I remember promising myself after watching Dancer in the Dark that I would be very careful of watching films by Lars von Trier. It was such a difficult film, so incredibly painful and horrible. Melancholia is not as heart wrenching, but it is certainly an extremely emotional journey. If you let it be.
The film starts with a series of ultra slow, beautiful images which were wasted on my small television screen. Then we meet Justin (Kirsten Dunst) and her new husband Michael (Alexander Skarsgard) in a stretch limo that is struggling to negotiate a narrow and windy road; it’s amusing, but seems like a very clunky metaphor for a failing relationship. Finally, they arrive at the party and everything seems fabulous. The bride and groom are laughing and socializing. There are awkward moments with her parents and boss, but it seems perfectly normal until it gradually becomes clear that she is suffering from some kind of debilitating depression and that their relationship is not all it is set up to be. Justine winds up staying with her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and brother-in-law John (Kiefer Sutherland).
On top of this, there is a mysterious new planet, Melancholia (the name being a metaphor being one I appreciated a lot more than the stretch limo) which has been hiding behind the sun. It has emerged and appears to be heading toward Earth.
It is certainly a beautiful film that I wish I’d seen in the cinema; it is almost impossible to get a good sense of the beauty of the cinematography on a small screen. I often find that films with character such as these who are quite annoying and make poor decisions, I get very annoyed. But instead, with Melancholia, I was drawn in and wanted to know more.
I have become totally obsessed with the opening sequence. I find it totally hypnotising and mesmerising. I even found it on youtube to watch whenever I like. Here it is:
Michael (Jason Patrick) and Sam (Corey Haim) move in with their grandfather (Barnard Hughes) in Santa Carla, California, with their mother (Dianne Wiest) after she is divorced. Michael falls in love with Star (Jami Gertz), but she is already involved with David (Kiefer Sutherland). David spots the attraction and challenges David to a motorcycle race against him and his gang. Meantime, Sam meets the Frog brothers (Corey Feldman and Jamison Newlander) who tell him of the vampires that roam through the area. Sam doesn’t believe them until he discovers that David has turned his own brother Michael into a vampire. Only one this is left to do – kill the leader of the vampires before the half-vampires Michael, Star and her young son, Laddie, make their first kill. But who is the leader?
This film was awesome when it was released in 1987 and is still awesome. Sure, the effects are a bit average, but the vampires did look pretty scary. Films these days really don’t have the same element of the kooky sidekicks that films of the 80s enjoyed – no wonder Corey and Corey have so little work.
Researching this today, I discovered that the film was directed by Joel Schumacher, who has made a number of films I enjoyed (including Falling Down, Flatliners and St Elmo’s Fire). I’ve also just discovered that Corey Haim passed away in 2010. Far too young to die. But, if you want to reminisce on Corey Feldman’s career, there is a place in Melbourne where you can do just this – and eat some magnificent pizza at the same time. Feldman’s in Fitzroy. Check it out.
John Tunstall, (Terence Stamp) takes in young men who are at risk of running astray and becoming trouble makers, and gives them a sense of self-worth. He teaches them to read and do good work, and instills in them a sense of right and wrong. It’s the Wild West, so morals are, at the best of times, dubious. Tunstall gets killed by the evil Lawrence G. Murphy (Jack Palance. Believe it, or not), and his young men go out avenge his death. They’ve been deputized, but this does not mean they can do anything. Amongst their number is Billy the Kid (Emilio Estevez) who is a loose cannon.
This was one of my favourite films as a teenager. Several of my friends and I must have watched this a hundred times. We knew all the lines, knew everything about the film. Then, a few years ago, a friend and I re-watched it, and I hated it so much. It was totally and utterly awful. I felt that my memory had let me down, and I felt sad. Then this same friend stumbled across it on television, watched it and all the old love was back. I gave it another go, and it was wonderful. I have no idea why we hated it for that brief moment.
I should be clear – I don’t think it is a great film. But for me, it was a film for that time of my life. I was a teenager and the film was full of handsome young men (Emilio Estevez, Kiefer Sutherland, Lou Diamond Phillips, Charlie Sheen). There was a bit of humour and a lot of action, both of which I still love in a film. I think had I been an adult watching it then, I’d have hated it; or perhaps I wouldn’t have been that harsh on it, but I wouldn’t have had the reckless love for it that only a teenage girl can have.