The Reel World: Kirsten Dunst

As I was going over my plans for flying home over Thanksgiving, “Elizabethtown” (2005) came into my head immediately. In the film, Orlando Bloom portrays Drew Baylor, a shoe designer who returns to his Kentucky hometown for his father’s funeral. More famously, however, “Elizabethtown” is the film that invented the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope in the form of Kirsten Dunst’s Claire Colburn, a flight attendant who really brings Baylor out of his shell.

Dunst’s evolution is particularly interesting to me, since my sister and I used to know by heart the entire opening cheer of “Bring It On” (2000), the film that brought Dunst to fame. In that film, she portrays the spunky, headstrong Torrance Shipman, a character who would take one look at Claire from “Elizabethtown” and say, “As if!”

Like Dunst, I, as a writer (said in my most pretentious voice), try to be as ethereal as possible to help add to my mystique. Instead of acting fun, preppy and peppy — like Dunst does as Torrance in “Bring It On,” — sometimes I try, with limited success, to cultivate an image more along the lines of Dunst’s character Lux Lisbon in Sofia Coppola’s “The Virgin Suicides” (1999): a brooding, pensive, tortured image. I actively eschew the scientific sensibilities of Dunst’s Mary Jane Watson in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films — I feel that I must remain mysterious and aloof if anyone is to take any of my work seriously. It’s completely and utterly ridiculous, but I just take a look at Dunst’s career  and see that it’s not an anomalous career path to take. Dunst and Coppola are enabling my nonsense, basically.

In another of Coppola’s films, “Marie Antoinette” (2006), Dunst, as the titular doomed French queen, outwardly projects an aura of naivety, stifling protocol, distraction and longing. This is much like my own experience trying to get around the regulations of being “normal” and project an image of a brooding, mysterious writer along the lines of J.D. Salinger. My own wildly ridiculous concept of myself as a writer is not, on the whole, too different from the concept of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, just less of a lame trope and more of a lifestyle choice.

Dunst’s transformation from a fun, sassy cheerleading squad captain to a complete ethereal weirdo finally comes to its completion in Lars von Trier’s “Melancholia” (2011). In the film, Dunst portrays Justine, a woman who deals with depression while, up in space, a rogue planet called Melancholia threatens to crash into Earth. Dunst plays the ethereal part expertly in this film; she stares off into the distance, saying lines like “Earth is evil,” and even lies nude on a rock under the blue light of the planet Melancholia. It is this film that always makes me realize how buffoonish my conceptions of what a writer should be like are. Maybe, I tell myself after watching “Melancholia,” I should err more on the side of “normal human being.” After all, the world blows up in the end.