On paper, Melancholia should be nothing more than an Armageddon meets Deep Impact-esque affair, full of near misses and romantic sub plots. A nearby planet is on course to collide with and destroy the Earth. But this being a Lars von Trier movie, a man who has previously explored topics including self-mutilation, it was never going to be an entirely straight forward movie that sees Bruce Willis save the day once again.
The opening sequence of Melancholia instantly lets us know that there will be no happy ending here. No amount of science or weaponary could save the Earth as it is swallowed up by Melancholia. It is an apocalyptic sucker-punch that results in a movie which is infinitely morbid, but completely compelling and at times very moving.
Melancholia is then played out over two chapters. The first focusing on Kirsten Dunst who plays Justine, a newly wed who is seemingly overwhelmingly depressed – despite this supposedly being the happiest day of her life. She is exhausted and wants nothing more than to get away from the rigmarole that comes with a Wedding reception. While the second half of the movie takes us forward to focus on the emotion of sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) as she struggles to accept her husband’s belief that Melancholia will not strike the Earth.
Through Dunst we experience the deep unhappiness which grips Justine; an unhappiness that is seemingly only lifted by her realisation that the world is coming to an end. It is an exploration of depression that is emotionally engaging, but equally draining.
Made on a budget of just $7,400,000 the movie is visually stunning and features a performance from Dunst which is her best to date, and who alongside Gainsbourg just about manages to maintain focus away from the poor delivery by Cameron Spurr playing Claire’s son and who was making his first feature. The weak recital from the movie’s only child actor could, in part, be a result of Von Trier’s unique approach to film-making, which saw no rehearsals and actors taking instruction between takes – with freedom to improvise. An ability which surely only comes through experience.
The final scene in Melancholia is perhaps the most powerful I’ve ever experienced, with acoustics that quite literally had the entire theatre shaking as the two planets collide. It’s an almost overwhelming experience that lingers through a deathly black screen. The end of the world.
Melancholia is currently slated for a September 30th release in the UK, with a US release not following until November 4th.
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This article was first posted on May 18, 2011