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Saturday, April 7, 2012

Melancholia and Martha Marcy May Marlene

Spoiler free

Melancholia is about a depressed woman on her wedding day, which also happens to be the day the world ends when it collides with another planet. Now, the movie captures bleakness and depression well, it looks great, and it has good acting. But it’s about a depressed woman on her wedding day, which also happens to be the day the world ends when it collides with another planet.  You don’t care if she gets better or repairs her familial relationships, because the movie is going to end with this collision and you know that from the first five minutes. There’s no “beauty in the fleetingness of life” message or anything, because it’s about depressed rich people. Also, the whole “unknown planet hiding behind the sun and then crashing into us” thing is scientifically unlikely.

Melancholia is on-the-nose regarding our modern condition. Secular beliefs about the world are that it is going to end, we are all going to die, there is nothing after this. As a society, we are rich and comfortable, yet we are lonely, selfish and unhappy. But is it fun or helpful to watch a movie about this? Not really. There’s not a lot in the way of plot. And holy balls, this movie was boring! This movie is not entertainment; it’s art. It’s only laudable in its ambition. Film majors and hipsters should watch it, but normal people will want 2.25 hours of their lives back. Jack Bauer was in this, so we thought he would save the world. Spoiler alert: he doesn’t. Someone also beats the crap out of a horse (as if this movie wasn’t depressing enough without animal abuse).

This movie has been rightly called the opposite version of The Tree of Life. The Tree of Life had uplifting, life-affirming messages about loving others and living with grace. This movie is a lot like that one, only not as pretentious (close though) and also not as profound. Melancholia made us like The Tree of Life a lot more by comparison. We’d raise our grade for that movie to a “B” after seeing this. Melancholia has been described as “oppressive,” but it didn’t pack enough of a punch to oppress us. It was a little weird, sure, but it wasn’t disturbing. It was just cold. We don’t think the director wanted anyone to enjoy Melancholia. It is pretty impossible to connect with the movie or care about the people in it.
Visuals: A
As art: B+
As gripping entertainment: D-
As a movie: C-

Martha Marcy May Marlene is about a young woman named Martha who escaped from a cult and went to live with her estranged older sister, Lucy, and Lucy’s wealthy husband. Martha was able to leave the cult, but she is unable to ditch her shame and paranoia. The movie slowly lets us know what happened to Martha and what the future could hold for her. For a quiet psychological drama, this movie felt a little like a thriller and it didn’t even feel like the movie had to try hard to achieve that feeling.

It was appropriately creepy in places and it got us to care about all the main characters. The cult subject matter was gripping and scary. The mix of flashbacks and present-day scenes of Martha’s turmoil kept us on edge. It was entertaining most of the way through. The movie was only an hour and 41 minutes. Elizabeth Olsen was very good and perfectly cast in the lead role.

The movie sucks you in and stays with you hours after the credits roll, but then it doesn’t quite know what to do with the viewer once it has him/her in its grasp. We felt a little jolted by the ending, and that’s the reason for the mildly above-average grade. We wanted to see a little more, and we wish the movie had the climax it was building toward. We put more of our thoughts on the ending in the comments section of this post, so don’t go there unless you want to see spoilers.
Movie grade: B-

Neither of these movies are recommended by this blog, however if you are interested in either, we won't scream at you to stay away like we would worse movies.


  1. This is how we interpret MMMM's ending: Martha was paranoid. The person following her was the same person she saw while swimming, but he was not in the cult. Martha already falsely accused a bartender, showing that she really does need help. Now she is going to get it. The ambiguity was supposed to give us a glimpse of what it would be like to see things through Martha’s panicked mind. If the ambiguity was real and it was really possible that someone dangerous was following Martha and her family, then we didn’t like the ending. Either way, the ending was a little abrupt.

    A movie’s ending doesn’t have to spell everything out for us to like it. It can end with some unanswered questions (Inception) or some tumultuous events left to unfold (Fight Club, Limitless). But a movie with an ambiguous ending needs to give us the sense that we’ve seen all that we need to see. We need to be satisfied. This felt like a cliffhanger. A good ambiguous ending leaves you wondering but it also feels like the end of the movie. This ending just felt frustrating.

  2. Melancholia is my favorite film from 2011, I really loved it. I need to write this in spanish because is kind of hard for me translate it english.

    La película de Melancholia para mi fue ver a la Depresión como una amiga y bailar con ella, ya que de los estados de animo, en mi opinión, la Depresión es de los estados de animos mas sinceros y honestos; y esta pelicula supo capturar todo eso de una manera fenomenal y el final donde el fin del mundo siento yo, qe sirve como una metafora para decirnos que todo acaba un dia y nada es eterno, incluyendo al dolor se me hizo de lo mejor. Mención aparte las actuaciones que fueron realmente buenas.

    1. I guess if you feel that way about depression and believe that nothing is forever, the movie would mean more to you. Lots of people loved it. The reason we rented it is because it got great reviews. We don't rent things that get terrible reviews. I think we are in the minority here, but it just didn't grab us. Depression is an interesting topic though.