Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Melancholia – directed by Lars von Trier (2011)

Spoilers! Step away from this review now if you do not wish to know what obviously happens.

A film that leaves you with an overwhelming awareness of melancholia…

This was an apocolyptic disaster movie with a calmness that was quite beautiful. Absent of all the humankind hysteria and alarmist bonding in a crisis you normally get, the three main characters deal with it in a solitary way. It's a film that reminds us all how small and possibly alone we are, as did Malick’s 'The Tree of Life' in places.

Naturally, I loved it…depression and destruction are my fascinations and Kirsten Dunst was brilliant in it as was Charlotte Gainsbourg. Of course this will never happen, planets don’t hide behind the sun, flirt with passing by, start to move away and then burn burn burn you into teeny tiny burnt bits of nothingness. But what do we really know? *said in doom mongering voice*.

It has an overwhelming sense of sadness you can’t escape, something is about to happen and will change everything.  There are no heroes, no damsels in distress, nobody is rescued, Superman or Will Smith does not appear; it just calmly happens. And it shows how, as we fear the unknown and come into full knowledge, we all Zen out, well the women do and even the horses finally accept it. Justine is the melancholic, fully prepared for everyday disaster, and her sister Claire is the one who looks after everyone, so of course is in fearful acceptance wanting to run to other people in the village.

The one whose calm did break was the main man John (Keifer Sutherland), once in full knowledge of what’s going on in a planetary way, he does the unspeakable, but quietly. Lars von Trier's optimist cannot handle the inescapable end, a challenge too far for that kind of hope centric mind. The women build a magic cave with sticks and hold hands. So many will hate it for its blurring of science fiction but I think that’s what makes it, a story of humanity and its frailness where suddenly planets hurtling towards us are the subplot.

The film is structured as two chapters named after the sisters 'Justine' (Kirsten Dunst)  and 'Claire' (Charlotte Gainsbourg). It starts with the impending doom of a marriage that shouldn’t be and a bride who is instructed repeatedly ‘just be happy’, implored to be by everyone on her happiest day. Apparently Lars von Trier wrote this after a bout of depression and you can tell it's personal, the reckless detachment and feelings of adverse love coupled with cold physical expression of that consequence jump at you with Justine’s story. She will not undress on her wedding night for her husband preferring to lift her white dress to have sex with a guest, but later in the story, lays naked gazing into the light of the planet Melancholia as if it is her lover.

In her story, the second chapter, Claire becomes the vulnerable and frightened carer for Justine, yet while Claire says ‘sometimes I hate you’, Justine remains aloof with detached acceptance of doom. And calm, always calm. Claire has panic attacks and is instructed to stay offline and stop tracking ‘Melancholia’ by her idealist and stargazing husband, while Justine refuses to bathe, walks under the night sky and promises her nephew a cave. She also says she knows things. We are alone and Earth is evil; ‘There’s nothing to grieve for’. An existential crisis or the inner workings of a depressive who can embrace disaster? All to the sumptuously dark and dramatic sound of Wagner's 'Tristan and Isolde'.

It’s not a ‘feel good’ movie unless you see a ‘Carpe diem’ moment in it, however I didn't leave this story feeling depressed or despairing. Watch and see what you think. It’s a portrayal of destruction in a beautiful and haunting way, not melodrama, just melancholia as it is. I love the ending.

Related Post:

The Tree of  Life - Terrence Malick


  1. What a hauntingly accurate review; in the beginning, Justine seems like the victim crippled by the darkness. It’s hard to tell where the planet’s influence ends and Justine’s depression begins, but her sadness seems to disappear by part two. I heard so many great things about this movie from coworkers of mine at DISH that I’m very happy that I decided to finally check it out on my own. I added it to the top of my Blockbuster @Home queue a few days ago and finally got it in the mail earlier today. I’m not one for purchasing movies right off the bat, so it’s great that I got the chance to save some money by renting. I liked it so much though, I’ll probably be adding it to my DVD collection.

  2. Thank you and yes I will definitely be checking out other films from Lars Von Trier as I also liked 'Dancer in the Dark' too.