Forget about any ideas of cities full of panicking people or over destructive natural hazards for which one person or family amazingly survives despite all odds. Here we focus on the emotional struggle Dunst has with her depression. Then there's Charlotte Gainsbourg, whose character attempts to both handle supporting her sister and the stress of knowing Earth will be destroyed.
'Melancholia' is a beautifully made film which left me both amazed and emotionally moved throughout every moment. Despite a few factors which may affect the attention of some viewers, they shouldn't get in the way with how much Von Trier does right.
What we get here is an apocalyptic drama centered around a rogue planet that is on a collision course with Earth. The story is told in two parts and focusing (primarily) on two sisters, Justine: a severely depressed newlywed and Claire who is quite wealthy and tries to look after/help Justine.
The film doesn't try to be scientifically accurate in terms of the astrophysics, but as a treatise on depression/melancholy and how different people react to looming crisis, it's actually pretty good. Especially with how depression is portrayed. That probably has something to do with the fact that a lot of this is based on von Trier's own experiences with depression.
I actually found this to have a lot in common with Rachel Getting Married, due to wedding plot points, depression, bummed out characters, and the fact that both films are rambling, meandering, slow, and pretentious, artsy indies. That film was annoying though. This one, though it might be difficult, is sorta easier to tolerate, even though it is rather hard to sit through at times.
Yeah, it's over long, and perhaps too slow, but I found this to be less boring than I anticipated. Where the film really excels is in being ethereal as well as absolutely gorgeous. The look here is really striking at times, especially during the big tableaux shots. Some of the handheld stuff is great too, but the big stuff, especially the prologue, is just brilliant. The same goes for the use of music, which is the frequent repetition of the prologue from Tristan Und Isolde by Wagner.
Kirsten Dunst gives basically her best performance of her career so far as Justine. She's really engaging and a joy to watch, even though she's playing such a joyless and damaged character. Charlotte Gainsbourg is fine as Claire, though not as strong as Dunst. I liked seeing Kiefer Sutherland as Claire's husband John, as well as the hamminess of Udo Kier and John Hurt. Both Stellan and Alexander Skarsgard appear, but unfortunately there's not enough of them, especially Alexander.
This is definitely a challenging film, but it can be rewarding if you give it a chance. I'm torn on the specific rating, so let's split it between 3.5 and 4 stars.
Lars Von Trier who wrote and directed the piece (so he cannot point a finger anywhere else other than back at himself), attempted to create something stately and grand, and although there are a few very visceral and beautiful bits of scenery, this film not only moves at glacial speed, but stays in scenes way too long - making me want to hit the fast forward button... of course I would only do that in a desire to get through to the end of the film, as this is one of the few films in recent memory that I wanted to simply turn off (yeah, I've got a good book to read...).
The film sets itself up to be a metaphor, how the possibility of a grand and damaging event can cause depression and inaction; mirroring the psychological state of melancholy - which has been defined as "the mental or emotional state of depression". Ok, we get it - and really don't need to see endless scenes of that glorious state of mental illness where a person gets stymied by the inability to act (and I'm not talking about Kirsten Dunst here, who does her best with a thorny role).
Looking for further clues - there is a rather nice bit of filming dealing with the collage at the beginning of the film (nice artsy fartsy stuff that once again dwells too long on each frame). One of the first uses of the term "melancholy" was in Shakespeare's Hamlet (the melancholy Dane). In the bard's play, Ophelia is in love with the conflicted Hamlet, and then kills herself when he spurns her love by telling her to "get thee to a nunnery". In the 1800's John Everett Millias painted a wonderful and chilling version of a drowning Ophelia - which the film copies here. A nice touch, but really there is no correlation between Dunst and Ophelia other than a state of depression (in other words, she has not been spurned, mistreated, or had any traumatic event in her upper class, privileged life).
I don't usually mention the filming aspects of a project - but simply feel compelled here, as the film editing is atrocious! Scenes are obviously cut and pasted together and - in one of my pet peeves - the music in a continual scene changes from edit point to edit point - for me there is nothing more jarring (I guess you're not supposed to listen to the background music - but I can't help myself, especially when there's little else going on to hold my attention).
There are a series of scenes right in a row that take place outside the manor house where Dunst runs into one character after another - almost like she is a placeholder and the action revolves around her and through her. But for me this seems like a bunch of stuff that would have otherwise ended up on the cutting room floor, but instead were kludged together... and the sad thing is that none of it advanced the plot (such as it is), so perhaps should have ended up on said floor.
A film dealing with the cataclysmic end of the world scenario could have been poignant and full of pathos - instead Von Triers offers a bloated, self important, over long, badly edited mess of a film. For end of the world offerings, the vignette called Last Night of The World in the film Illustrated Man (based on the Ray Bradbury novel), is much more direct, simple, and for it more heartrendering than this disastrous film.
Kirsten Dunst gives the best performance of her career as a manic depressive bride, but that's about all the credit I can give to this film. Lars von Trier is usually artsy but accessible, but there are so many unanswered questions about the source of the characters' problems that I found myself looking for backstory. And while the dumbshow at the beginning contains beautiful images, it doesn't add to the film's overall effect. And assuming there's a thematic connection between the planet's name, Melancholia, and the state of melancholy, I can't understand why von Trier wouldn't know that melancholy is being sad but happy about it; these characters aren't happy about anything.
Overall, in typical von Trier fashion, this film is peripatetic and unique, but unlike some of his other work, the real movie, one that communicates something and affects an audience, is in his head, not on film.
The story unravels with the end-of-the-world plot in Part II. There's a bit of nihilist philosophy but not enough to actually BE philosophical or statement-making. The Narrative Nazi in me was hoping we'd get to learn why the two sisters have different accents and the origin of "Auntie Steelbreaker," Leo's nickname for Justine.
Despite my criticisms, the movie ends as well as a movie about a planet colliding with the Earth can end: straight to credits. Props for that.
Living hurts for Justine (Dunst). The threat of the approaching planet is a physical metaphor for her mental and physical suffering. Instead of fighting it, she accepts it. It's almost as if this pending destruction of the planet is what she's been anticipating her whole life.
Director: Lars von Trier
Summary: This inventive drama charts the disintegrating relationship between newly married twentysomething Justine and her melancholy sister, Claire, just as Earth hurtles toward certain collision with a newly discovered planet.
My Thoughts: "Kirsten Dunst is one of the better actresses today. I really enjoyed her depressing performance and thought she did great. The film is has a great cast and they all gave great performances. The film is dark, slow, depressing, but yet beautiful and fascinating. The dramatic music is a nice touch. Justine shows the acceptance of the impending doom. She has given up quite awhile ago anyways and is at peace with it. Claire shows the anxiety and the fear of it. I thought it balanced well. Probably something I wouldn't watch again though. In reallity life is depressing with only moments of happiness.. Well, my opinion of course."
Melancholia has great acting, lush cinematography, and an ending that resonated with me. I'd recommend it to anyone with broad a broad taste in cinema.