If Melancholia is indeed a science fiction film, as Wikipedia tells us it is, it’s one that only Lars von Trier could have made. Its depiction of a rogue planet on a collision course with Earth is joined at the hip with the story of two sisters, one of whom is deeply depressed. Trier, widely known within film circles for his bouts of severe depression, claims the idea came to him during one of his therapy sessions, in which he was told that, because they’ve conditioned themselves to see the bad side of every situation, depressives tend to act more calmly than others when under pressure. The depressed woman is resigned not only to her fate but also the fate of everyone on the planet. The same cannot be said for her sister, in the throes of panic and despair. The irony, of course, is that their behavioral roles have been reversed.
The film is not a disaster movie in the Hollywood sense, in which audiences gawk helplessly at cities being reduced to rubble. Rather than typical death and destruction, it’s a psychological drama, a story about how we as human beings cope with impending disaster. Some are able to stay level-headed. Others will emotionally self destruct. In the end, it makes no difference; we’re all in the same boat, which is to say that for everything we do, it all amounts to nothing. I resist nihilism as a rule, simply because I find that belief system very unpleasant. In this particular case, however, I recognized what Trier was trying to convey. In the inky depths of depression, absolutely nothing matters – not your loved ones, not your professional or personal life, and certainly not an inevitable apocalypse. It’s a void, like a black hole.
The depressed sister is Justine (Kirsten Dunst), the subject of the film’s first chapter. At the start, we see a woman that’s all smiles. It’s her wedding day, and she has just married a wonderful man named Michael (Alexander Skarsgård). She even has a promising career in advertising. They arrive for their reception at the palatial home of her sister, Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg), and her wealthy husband, John (Kiefer Sutherland), and that’s when the cracks begin to show. She has an eccentric father (John Hurt), who insists on calling every young woman he meets Betty, and a deeply bitter and cynical mother (Charlotte Rampling), who thinks nothing of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. She has a boss (Stellan Skarsgård, Alexander’s father) who’s only interested in power and money and will not stop pestering her for a new slogan. As the night goes on – during which she notices an unusually bright star in the sky – she becomes less and less engaged with the party. Eventually, even Michael is forced to concede that it has all been a lie.
Claire is the subject of the second chapter, which takes place after the disastrous wedding reception. Justine has moved in and is in a depression so severe that she can’t even walk without assistance. Claire is willing to nurture her sister. John, on the other hand, is distracted by the discovery of a heretofore unknown planet dubbed Melancholia, which has eclipsed several stars and is scheduled to pass Earth. He believes the scientists who say that the two planets will not collide. Claire isn’t as optimistic. As the days pass and Melancholia draws near, she visits numerous websites and worries that it will not be a flyby event but a deadly slingshot orbit. Soon enough, her fears get the better of her. She thinks of her young son, Leo (Cameron Spurr), who may not have the chance to grow up. Justine, despite being certain of Earth’s impending doom, inches closer towards once again being a functional adult.
In Trier’s previous film, Antichrist, Gainsbourg played a woman who, following the death of her son and the questionable therapeutic techniques of her husband, came to believe that women are inherently evil. (Incidentally, Trier was in a depression of his own when he made the film.) Now in Melancholia, Trier’s cinematic misogyny expands to full-blown misanthropy; Dunst’s character is convinced that all life on Earth is evil, and that no one will miss our planet when it’s gone. She says she knows that we’re all alone in the universe – not a trace of life anywhere else in the infinite vastness of the cosmos. There’s no explaining it. She just knows. I would not say this comforts her, although she certainly is prepared to accept it.
When the film premiered at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Trier attracted attention for making contentious statements during a press conference and for getting banned as a result. Most inflammatory were his jokes about Jews, Nazis, his own German heritage, and his affiliation with the Nazi party and admiration for Adolf Hitler. He later declared – wisely, I believe – that he would never again make public statements and decline future interview requests. I wonder: Will this draw people to Melancholia? It cannot be denied that controversy generates interest, and yet I’m concerned that certain audiences will see it for all the wrong reasons. In my opinion, Trier’s immature and objectionable behavior should have no bearing on the film’s strong character development, compelling performances, and striking visuals.
**** out of **** "Melancholia" begins with a stunning montage of beautiful images, all somehow connected. They are meant to act as a sort of moving scrapbook for the end of the world; at the end of it all, we see a planet collide with our own, incinerating everything on it, perhaps even the water. Before that, we get extreme slow motion imagery such as a woman clutching her infant child as she walks across what looks like a golf course, another woman observing as a mysterious … more
Due to the stylized similarities within the story and the ethic and pragmatic visual poem, Melancholia feels like The Tree of Life's little brother. That's just a feeling though and nothing accurate as you cannot really put these two movies in the same bowl. Melancholia is a frivolled appearance in the art of filmmaking. It's an interesting concept that deals with smooth nuances of flamboyant storytelling and magical colors. An ambiance between, music, soul and film. While … more
When 'Melancholia' directed by the always controversial, Lars Von Tier, opens...there is a montage of impressionistic stills set to Wagner's 'Tristan and Isolde... Dead birds slowly rain down from the sky, while Kirsten Dunst, dressed in a long, flowing white wedding gown, wearing a dazed expression on her face, runs through a lush, dark forest...A horse silently falls to the ground as the opera reaches a crescendo...Then we cut … more
MELANCHOLIA Written and Directed by Lars von Trier Starring Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Keifer Sutherland and Alexander Skarsgard Justine: The Earth is evil. We don’t need to grieve for it. Nobody will miss it. Leave it to one of the world’s most infamously melancholic directors, Lars von Trier, to open a film with Earth as we know it coming to an abrupt demise. Dead birds drop from the sky, roots come out from the ground and people sink into the dirt beneath … more
Growing up a shy kid in a quiet suburb of Los Angeles, Chris Pandolfi knows all about the imagination. Pretend games were always the most fun for him, especially on the school playground; he and his … more
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