Fantastic Fest Forever: MELANCHOLIA

A peanut butter cookie and a powerful examination of despair.

Lars von Trier is a big part of the culture at Fantastic Fest. The fox scene in Antichrist is responsible for the festival’s not-so-unofficial mantra: chaos reigns. (It’s also indirectly responsible for the fox tattoo I now have behind my ear, a lifelong souvenir from the Fantastic Fest 2014 closing night party.)

Most of his movies over the past several years have played at Fantastic Fest, to a rapturous audience who seems to truly understand him. In 2011, Melancholia was no different, and the screening opened with a Skype intro and Q&A from von Trier himself, tossing off a perfunctory “chaos reigns” before the lights dimmed and the film’s utterly stunning first seconds began to play out onscreen.

Melancholia slayed me. It brought me to my knees. It’s one of the most powerful representations of depression I have ever seen, a wry and breathtaking admission of its inevitability, its ugliness, its beauty. Watching Melancholia I felt as if I were every character in the film: I am Justine. I am Claire. I am Michael and John. I have been the exhausted sister, overburdened by her sense of responsibility, and I have been the woman so unmoored by her own unhappiness that she will sacrifice or sabotage everything she has to stay afloat.

It’s not easy to explain how Melancholia makes me feel. I’ve seen it many times since – it was my favorite film of that year, and one of my favorite films of the past decade, or ever. It is a story that understands something inside me, something I thought incomprehensible until I saw it comprehended onscreen, gorgeously rendered yet plainly spoken, with the vast, simple metaphor of one planet crashing into another.

But it is easy to explain how that screening made me feel. Here was a movie by a filmmaker I admire whose words have become something of an avatar for the festival that I live and love. I was sitting next to my friend April Swartz (she of Holy Hunter), and she ordered the peanut butter banana cookies, which always arrive with a rich, comforting smell that feels like home to me. (Home being the Alamo Drafthouse, of course, always and forever.) As I sat, floored by this film that knew me better than most of my own family, she offered me one of her cookies. And then I couldn’t stop crying.

As soon as Melancholia ended, I ran upstairs to the late Alamo offices above South Lamar. I hid in an empty room and cried and cried until I felt cleaned out. I waited for my puffy eyes to dry up, took several deep breaths to compose myself, and headed downstairs for yet another Fantastic Fest party, filled with the people that I love.

That’s what Fantastic Fest will always be to me. It’s a lot of work every year, this thing that unquietly steals my entire September, but once I get there, it’s as simple as this: life-changing cinema and a really good time with some of my favorite people on this planet. And peanut butter banana cookies.