by Sam Paulson
From the October 2015 Issue
Antichrist is the first film in the trilogy and plays like Trier’s version of a torture porn movie. It deals with the pain of depression, both in an emotional and physical sense. While the film shares many similar visual motifs with the Saw franchise, it is very clearly still a Lars von Trier film. Despite the grittiness of the content, it is visually beautiful; wielding the power to make you pause the movie to admire the cinematography and lighting in one scene, only to have you look away in disgust in the next. This is by far the most stunning of the three films, capturing the beauty and fear of being alone in the middle of the woods; however, these visuals come at a cost to the story. Plot-wise, this one is the weakest entry in the trilogy, with a very loose storyline that only really presents itself near the end of the film.
While Antichrist dealt with the pain of depression, Melancholia presents depression as a numbing agent, even in the face of a horrible disaster. The film is divided into two parts: The first deals with a wedding and the second deals with the impending collision between earth and the rogue planet, “Melancholia.” While both halves share the same cast of characters, they are nearly polar opposites when it comes to tone and emotion. The first portion shows a marriage dissolve on the night of the wedding and the proceedings are accented by subtle black comedy. Witnessing a bride deciding to abandon her groom, her job, and most of her friends, I found myself laughing as everyone’s evening was ruined by this sudden change of mind. The humor is not present in the second half of the film, which takes a far more somber tone. We see the aftermath of the decision, as well as how the family deals with the impending destruction of the world. In this drawn out moment of finality, as time winds down, we see the numbness of depression, as the previously married sister feels no sadness at the end of the world. This is contrasted with the other sister who is frantically trying to save her family. Overall a little slow, but as with all of Lars von Trier’s works, it is truly breathtaking.
Nymphomaniac covers the life of a woman through her many sexual encounters and adventures. This film has the strongest and most straightforward story of three by far. It’s an epic, running about four hours (in the theatrical version), both parts combined. You can feel the sense of scope watching it, as we see the growth of the character from her childhood to the present—a story that lasts nearly 50 years. While the previous two films in the trilogy focused on small casts, this film has a huge cast of characters. The movement of events is smooth, but it still manages to drag at certain points. In addition to there being more of a focus on the story, it feels like there are fewer breathtaking shots than there were in the other films. Don’t get me wrong, this is still a beautiful film and it’s really interesting to see Trier’s signature style used in a far more narratively-driven film. As a whole, it’s a good end to the trilogy, giving us a captivating story presented with intelligence and grace.