Steve Carrell is the aptly named insurance salesman, Dodge, whose wife immediately abandons him in the face of the news, causing him to reflect later in the movie “being afraid of dying alone was why I got married in the first place...”The denouement is Dickensian. Nothing happens, and yet everything does. Is there any point to enlightenment or coming-of-age in a story where happily-ever-after suddenly got a lot shorter. As it turns out, there is.
Curtis’ hallucinations may or may not be representations of his own mental illness, but they’re also potent symbols of the kind of omnipresent unease that is a part of modern American society, whether it’s due to political/media-based fear-mongering or to very real concerns of economic and societal collapse. The central dilemma that Nichols explores here is nothing less than how we should live in times like these, when barricading yourself in a tornado shelter is clearly untenable, but the unthinkable seems more and more possible every day. The film’s searing climactic scene in a locked cellar provides one answer – and I’ll be surprised if we see a more powerful scene in American film this year.
Melancholia came out around the same time, and depicted a family winding down to the end of the world at a wedding, documenting the earth's collision course with the planet Melancholia. Here's what Raj wrote:
“The earth is evil,” says Justine. “We don’t need to grieve for it.” Anyone familiar with von Trier’s past movies (Dogville, Dancer in the Dark) might see this as another expression of all-consuming nihilism from the famously downbeat director. But it’s a mistake to judge this entirely based on von Trier’s previous work. Because for all the clear loathing that von Trier expresses towards most of the film’s haughty bourgeoisie, as Melancholia draws to a close, real human compassion sneaks into the picture. It helps that Dunst and Gainsbourg are incredibly good – the former, in particular, gives a career-best performance here as an enigmatic suffering soul who finds a new lease of life, however bizarre it may be.
Also a little off the beaten path, and released earlier this year: Willem Dafoe in Abel Ferrara's 4:44 Last Day on Earth (available on amazon instant), forecasts an environmentally-based Inconvenient Truth-ish doomsday, and is even artsier and more navel-gazing than Melancholia.