Lars Von Trier
- Kirsten Dunst as Justine
- Charlotte Gainsbourg as Claire
- Kiefer Sutherland as John
- Alexander Skarsgård as Michael
- Stellan Skarsgård as Jack
- Charlotte Rampling as Gaby
- John Hurt as Dexter
- Udo Kier as Wedding Planner
The Melancholia of the title refers to two things; a rogue planet that has been hiding behind the sun and is heading towards the Earth and the frequent bouts of depression that Justine, one of the main characters suffers from as the movie progresses. As with most of Von Trier’s films, this one will polarize viewers. People seem to either think of him as an artistic genius or violent sadist, there never seems to be a middle ground when it comes to people’s opinions on the controversial director. Although the film’s pace maybe too slow for some viewers tp watch, I personally enjoyed the film for many reasons that I will go into further detail in this review.
The plot revolves around young bride Justine on her wedding night and the events that follow on from it. At her lavish wedding to groom Michael and the ensuring reception organised by her sister , various incidents begin to take a detrimental effect on Justine. Her mother and father bicker during the speeches, her mother tells her “Enjoy it while it lasts” words that take on a bigger meaning and resonance as the film unravels. During these scenes, the up close camera work clearly captures the characters off guard, especially Justine whose face reveals hurt and pain as she tries to smile. It also helps create a sense of confusion and isolation within her character. Her relationship with her sister Claire is explored and reveals a distant feeling between the two of them. With all the feelings of melancholy beginning to engulf her, the rogue planet of the title begins to emerge ominously and seems destined to strike the Earth.
Split into two parts named after the sisters, the film explores the frail relationship between the two and how they react the impending planet. I thought that each half was remarkably different, the first half is more slow-moving whereas the second half gains momentum and becomes more dramatic as it goes on to reach its climax. If there is one thing that kept me engaged when watching the film it was the performances, especially from Dunst, who I believe gives one of the best performances in her career. She is a revelation as Justine, giving an emotionally raw and bruised portrayal of a woman close to breaking point. Even when she isn’t speaking her intensity is felt, as her eyes reveal the deep sadness and emotional bruises inside her. In other word she is the embodiment of melancholy. Also giving a great performance is Gainsbourg, who returns for her second venture in a Von Trier movie after her harrowing role in the highly controversial and much discussed Antichrist. Even though she scolds her sister for her despondency, she is equally troubled and becomes highly strung as the thought of Melancholia begins to get to her. Sutherland does well in his role as Claire’s amateur astronomer husband who tries to convince her that there is nothing to worry about but fails. Also the cameos of Charlotte Rampling and John Hurt add to the acting honours, as well as Von Trier regular Udo Kier as an impatient and extremely surly wedding planner.Stellan Skarsgård and his son Alexander Skarsgård appear as Justine’s boss and her new husband in the first part of the film.
Aside from the acting, the stunning visuals are amazing to behold. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an apocalypse look so strangely and hauntingly beautiful before. Especially, the aesthetically and visually outstanding opening sequence, filmed in extreme slow motion to the strains of an epic Wagner score. The movie itself is full of so many bold symbolism and imagery that you will find it hard to forget them long after the credits have began to roll, they are that haunting. Although the film seems to follow some of the conventions of the sci-fi and disaster movie genre, it is essentially a drama about the depths of loneliness within a person and how it can take a hold over you and your whole existence.
As I have mentioned earlier, this is a film that will definitely divide opinion sharply down the middle. But if you are looking for a visually enthralling and well-acted hybrid between disaster movie and intense drama, Melancholia is a film that I would vocally advise you to give a look and judge for yourself.