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A movie by Lars von Trier.

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The inevitable end.

  • Apr 2, 2012
**** 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 energy is summoned from her fingertips, the same woman trudging through a forest of thick vines and weeds in a white wedding dress, a horse falling to its death, and then some. What makes the viewer connect almost instantly with what's being shown on-screen is the decision to put Richard Wagner's Tristand Und Isolde on the soundtrack. A lovely and tragically whimsical song to accompany lovely and tragically whimsical visual representations of pain, loss, mystery, death, and eventually the annihilation of an entire planet. This eight-minute sequence alone sets the film right up; you'll either want to turn it off by the time it's over, or you'll be in a sort of trance. Once it was over and the explanation to these images - the story - was about to begin, I'd have to say I was quite entranced by what I had just experienced.

After the opening scenes, there is a wedding reception. It's big, fancy, and quite expensive. The bride is the beautiful Justine (Kirsten Dunst), and the groom is a handsome man named Michael (Alexander Skarsgard). They arrive late to the event; which upsets Justine's sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and her husband John (Kiefer Sutherland). Both have been preparing for the night that is now upon them for days; they've even given up their house to fit all the guests and family members in all at once. Once the newlyweds arrive, the reception can finally begin. As the night progresses, troublesome toasts from the parents (John Hurt and Charlotte Rampling) and vexing, frequent encounters with her boss at work (for an ad company) overwhelm Justine; and she tries her hand at escaping all the drinking and the dancing and the partying. Needless to say, both Claire and John notice; and Claire encourages her sister to lighten up, a suggestion which doesn't end up working out for the best. Alas, the night ends with a rather grim discovery; that is a strange, unidentifiable planet in the night sky.

That's the first half of the film. The second half focuses primarily on the days that follow the disappointing and uneventful reception. Justine, who remains depressed beyond belief for the next few days, stays at the mansion with Claire, John, and their young son Leo. After Justine explains that she cannot get the odd star off her mind, it's soon explained that it isn't so much a star at all; but rather the planet from the opening sequenced. It is called Melancholia, rather ironically; and the fact that it is slowly moving towards earth (thus promising inevitable planetary destruction) only contributes to Justine's long list of emotionally distressing problems. Soon, Claire becomes impacted by the incoming planet; and it's only a matter of time before she's no better than her sister in terms of her mental and emotional well-being. John, on the other hand, remains surprisingly enthusiastic in the meantime; fascinated by what he can see of the planet through his fancy-looking telescope. Leo finds all this stuff intriguing as well.

The film was written and directed by Lars Von Trier; a man of great fame and infamy alike. He is known for directing films that challenge and dare the viewer, consistently. I wouldn't say he's a total provocateur, since his films tend to be very attached to his own inner emotions (he reportedly suffers from long periods of deep, dark depression from time-to-time). Nevertheless, he's shaken me up before; and look at that, he's done it again. "Melancholia" sees the director yet again crafting a very personal project; telling a story that was inspired by something said by a therapist during a session at the last mental hospital in which Von Trier stayed during one of his prolonged "episodes". On paper, I suppose the film might sound like a disaster movie; but Von Trier understands that we have Roland Emmerich for those, and instead he's made a movie that's less about accurate astrophysics and scientific observations and more about the study of depression, sadness, and desperation itself. With his visual style that consists mostly of hand-held techniques and jump cut editing - not to mention some very pretty CGI shots -, Von Trier hopes to earn our sympathy, for these characters, and for their situation. I don't think I could have survived that first night, given my social anxiety, and if I knew that the world was going to end sometime soon and there was nothing I could do to stop the catastrophic event, I might not make it past the first day on which I acquired such information and thoughts.

As you can probably tell, this isn't a feel-good film. In fact, it's designed to make you feel like absolute and utter shit for every last second that you're watching it. Well, aside from those beautiful images at the beginning; one can only elicit positive emotions from such a thing. But what I'm saying is that this is what I envisioned an end of the world movie with Lars Von Trier at the helm would look and feel like. It's an unforgettable and emotionally resonant cinematic experience. It has some of the best cinematography and employment of location I've seen in a long, long time; and the performances (particular that of Dunst, who has never been so good) are top-notch. In the end, I'm left with so much to talk about; I can't cover it all in a single review. What I know is that I loved every last moment of this depressing but masterfully staged mood piece. You could even say that I found it to be awesome (awe-inspiring), if only because the images and the music (Von Trier seems to evoke his ethnic roots with the German operatic soundtrack) mesh together so flawlessly. I can't say whether you should see "Melancholia" or not; you will either admire it, or you will hate every second spent watching it. Luckily, unlike the melancholic and hopeless characters of the film, we have time to make up our minds.

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April 05, 2012
Von Trier is a helluva director.
More Melancholia reviews
review by . October 01, 2011
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review by . November 06, 2011
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      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 …
review by . November 12, 2011
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Star Rating:         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, …
review by . September 17, 2011
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Beautiful Destruction
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 …
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Ryan J. Marshall ()
Ranked #11
It's very likely that the only kind of reviews I'll ever post here are movie reviews. I'm very passionate about film; and at this point, it pretty much controls my life. Film gives us a purpose; … more
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Movies, Drama, Sciencefiction, Review, Julian Left, Lars Von Trier, Kirsten Dunst, Melancholia, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Alexander Skarsgard


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