Movie Review – Melancholia

I found it interesting that back in 2009, director Lars von Trier said that his next films after Anti-Christ, were going to be devoid of a happy ending.  As a fan of his work I chuckled at this statement since I have seen Anti-Christ and Dancer in the Dark numerous times and never really found happiness in any of the endings.  I mean unless you were happy with the penis splitting good time that was Anti-Christ, I guess someone at least found something to be happy about.  Lars von Trier is a bit of a polarizing director, especially if you are only interested in him as a passing film fan.  He loves to revel in the grandiose story, harsh acting and stunning visuals to a point where you either love the man or hate him.

There is no denying though, even if you tuned into some of his movies in just the passing glance on Netflix one night, that his films are absolutely beautiful to watch.  So being a fan of his, this new science fiction project was something out of his comfort zone.  I was intrigued with the premise about viewing a film which doesn’t have a happy ending.  It goes against a lot of the pillars of film making or the pillars that we have become comfortable with as a viewing audience.  With so little known about the movie initially, the only bits of information we had to go off of was that the movie dealt with the destruction of Earth by a planet called Melancholia.  Melancholia, a name which means sadness in Greek, is not only the driven force behind the film, but also the emotional set piece for the study of depression and contemplation on the end of our lives.

Melancholia focuses on the story of two different, but connected lives. Justine, played by Kirsten Dunst, is the pretty sister.  Blonde, attractive, recently promoted to a successful position at her job and has just married the man of her dreams, slowly becomes distant and disconnected from the perfect life that she is about to have.  Claire, played by Charlotte Gainsbourg, is the other sister, a more homely version of Justine with dark hair, a son and a successful husband who she has just given control of her life to.  Their lives are intertwined by the discovery of a planet that is veering through space at 60,000 mph and is supposed to harmlessly pass by Earth.  The film revolves around how each sister deals with this new-found celestial planet and the effects that it could have to their lives and life on Earth.

It’s not a spoiler to say that Earth is destroyed by Melancholia.  The first 8 minutes of the film is what can be called, by me, “poetic destruction”.  If planet Earth were to be destroyed, I only hope that Wagner is playing on the record player and we too can witness worlds colliding.  The prologue is a thing of beauty with small vignettes that show haunting images of an Earthly discourse and images that are more artsy than your typical end of the world movies.  The prologue is paced beautifully with the haunting Wagner composition “Tristan und Isolde” and it all culminates with Melancholia colliding with Earth.  The destruction is elegant, horrific and satisfying.  Once the prologue ends, we begin with part one of the film entitled Justine.  We are thrown into the midst of Justine’s wedding to Alexander Skarsgård, two perfectly happy people off to enjoy a lavish reception.  There at the reception we are introduced to the rest of the main actors, Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and her husband  John (Kiefer Sutherland) and son Leo (Cameron Spurr), Justine’s father Dexter (John Hurt) and mother Gabby (Charlotte Rampling).  Even Udo Kier makes and appearance as the wedding planner, which I enjoyed.  At the wedding Justine’s perfect life starts to slowly unravel before her eyes.  In the span of a night, she goes from having everything to having nothing, tumbling into depression and wondering what the object in the sky she spots has in store for her life.

Part two is entitled Claire, ,which has the story accelerated to a point where Melancholia is a mere 5 days away from passing by Earth.  Claire has invited Justine out to the mansion with her family.  Justine is in a deep depression and Claire is just trying to keep everything together.  She fears that the Planet might hit Earth and having to keep the family together is enough to ship away at her exterior until the final closing scene.  Each part of the story make up a whole theme, the dealing with loss and hopelessness.  Justine’s story dealt with her unwinding life and eventual loneliness that results from her actions at the wedding party and crumbling resolve.  Claire’s story is more on the lines of the realistic representation of normal people.  Claire has everything you could want in life, but impending approach of the blue giant slowly starts to strip away all that she holds dear.  She loses everything in the process and instead of losing everything voluntarily like Justine, her life is taken involuntarily.

Kirsten Dunst offers up an incredible performance, one that is almost reminiscent of her role in Virgin Suicides in which she is more introspective than anything else.  At times she must be complacent and distant, but it doesn’t really work out that well.  She often comes off dismissive and cold, changing from the vibrant, blushing bride to the woman who just says “fuck it” to life.  While her characters performance might be manic, it represents the side of depression in which it consumes her life and she becomes despondent.  I will say that her role in the film is dynamic enough to get her noticed come award season, it is really Charlotte Gainsbourg who should be getting the praise in my opinion.  She has to play a character who tries to hold it together.  Justine has already given up on life and welcomes the impending destruction of Earth, so Claire seems more like the reasonable, every day person.  She has a family that she loves, but like any regular person, fears what this planet might hold for her future.  As the planet comes closer to Earth, her fear alleviated until the planet swings back and her world is shattered.  She is on the verge of losing everything and the knowledge that there is nothing that can be done to save themselves tears at her.  Her mood gradually shifts from fear to tranquil until the final closing scene which is both moving and devastating.

Everything about this movie is stunning, from the incredible juxtaposition of the mega planet out in the horizon and down to the beautifully framed cinematography that is staple in von Trier’s films.  Each scene drips with visual cues to the impending doom and Lars goes to great lengths to make a science fiction that doesn’t have the standard tropes of a science fiction film.  We don’t know how the planet has come into being.  We don’t how or why it is on the course to Earth or what effects it is having on the world.  As the planet nears closer to Earth, von Trier uses the power outage the Earth experiences to cut us off from forms of communication that would otherwise give us insight to this celestial body.  It’s a great change of pace in a science fiction film to be left with more questions and answers, but the science buff in me calls bullshit on some of the science in the film.  That is more picky than anything else, but still I want to know why a planet that is seemingly the size of Jupiter, isn’t causing mass havoc on the planet or pulling it out of orbit due to gravity.

I will use the tired cliché of “this film isn’t for everyone”.  If you love von Trier films, this is going to astound you in so many ways.  If you aren’t a fan of his films, you are going to probably find this pretentious and boring.  I found myself moved from the opening scene and to the final closing images.  Lars von Trier has made an apocalyptic film, seem almost too personal.  The world is ending, but the only thing the story focuses on are Justine and Claire.  It really brings home this depression theme even closer when you realize that the story isn’t really about the world as a whole, just the world that the two sisters belong to.  They are all they have left in the world and it’s that last bit of humanity that makes the swift death they experience, just a bit more melancholy.  Sure, Lars von Trier has said that there will be no more happy endings in his movie and watching Melancholia certainly gives off the impression of no happy ending.  The beautiful destruction of Earth and all life on it is assuredly sad, but the way that Justine and Claire face that fate, gives you a little bit of comfort in all the destruction.  The end of the world has never looked more beautiful.

Rating: 4/5

About Nick
I am just another blogger putting his thoughts into a website. My love is movies so most of my musings will be movie related. I work as an online marketer for an advertising company and when I am not earning a paycheck, I moonlight as a vigilante film blogger.

3 Responses to Movie Review – Melancholia

  1. Pingback: Watch Melancholia (2011) Movie online | Watch stream movies online free

  2. Pingback: Movie of the Day – Melancholia « Another Plot Device

  3. Pingback: Top Ten Apocalyptic Movies « Another Plot Device

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