Directed by Lars Von Trier
An apocalyptic film that gives away its ending in the first ten minutes, Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia is far less interested in any gigantic blue planet crashing into our gigantic mostly blue planet than it is in how two sisters relate to one-another. Picking up aesthetically where he left off with Antichrist – high-contrast, operatic sequences of extreme slow motion functioning often as prologue, epilogue or interlude against the Dogme-leftover, handheld narrative sections – Von Trier has made his funniest film to date. Odd then that all of the humor comes amidst a broken wedding and the end of the world.
Melancholia is divided into two sections. The first section, “Justine,” is named after its protagonist, played by Kirsten Dunst. The section begins with newlyweds Justine and Michael (Alexander
The second section is named for Justine’s sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg). Far more narrative than the ultimately more symbolic “Justine” section, “Claire” takes place immediately post-wedding, and still at the same chateau. Claire is obsessed with Melancholia – the planet coming dangerously close to earth – but her scientist-husband John (Kiefer Sutherland) reassures her that by all calculations it’ll scoot right on by. Like a gravitational waxing and waning, as the planet nears, Claire’s anxiety increases, but her sister’s depression decreases.
To say that Melancholia is disinterested in its science-fiction elements would be a huge mistake. Though Von Trier pushes them to the literal fringe of the narrative his film is more sci-fi than any of the
If you find yourself asking the purpose of Justine’s section, think back to the opening montage, which is shot the way it is to point to underlying motives. Many of these shots are repeated later, although slightly differently. Their place in the opening, in Von Trier’s cinematically-transcendent style, is simply the subtext. If in the prologue Claire runs through a golf course sinking into the ground, and later she runs through that same golf course amidst hail, it’s not because one happened and the other didn’t, but rather because the first indicates the feel of the second: Claire is stuck.
Strange that, for being a film about death, depression and disaster, Melancholia leaves such a pleasant taste in the mouth. Its ending, so grandiose and overwhelming in scope, celebrates our smallness rather than despairing in it. There are imperfections: Justine’s section plods at a certain point. Von Trier’s camera becomes tiresome for a short while (though it’s quickly saved by some fantastic editing). But the carefully constructed symmetry of the narrative, and the breathtaking introduction and finale are cinema at its finest.
– Neal Dhand