“I know things,” Justine explains. “We’re alone…life is only on Earth and not for long.”
A rogue planet is on a collision course headed straight to Earth…you probably wouldn’t be too sane either.
The apocalyptic vision of Melancholia writer and director Lars von Trier is a visually enthralling CGI wonderland equipped with a lavish Swedish landscape and a theater-shaking Wagner score. Whether you love it or hate it, Melancholia will leave a haunting imprint.
At the Cannes Film Festival, von Trier unveiled his personal connection to the context behind Melancholia. “To me it’s not so much a film about the end of the world, it’s a film about a state of mind…I’ve been through some melancholic stages of my life, so it was kind of obvious to do this.”
The film is broken into two acts focusing on the two sisters—Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg). The first act dives into the uncomfortable territory of wedding reception nightmares brought to life—think Rachel Getting Married on a grandiose wedding budget. The headache starts when Justine and her new husband Michael (Alexander Skarsgard) arrive to their reception at her brother-in-law John’s (Kiefer Sutherland) lavish estate two hours late. The reception dinner showcases Justine and Claire’s separated parents who exhibit polar opposite personalities. The father-of-the-bride (John Hurt) acts as the lackadaisical comic relief in spite of the callous mother-in-law (Charlotte Rampling) who delivers a bitter, your-marriage-will-be-doomed toast after acknowledging her dissatisfaction with the idea of marriage. As the tension mounts, Justine’s behavior becomes more erratic—she decides to leave her reception to take a bath, followed by a nap in bed with her nephew Leo, a walk outside to admire the sky where she first discovers the twinkling planet Melancholia and eventually has sex with a guest on the golf course of the estate.
After acknowledging the uncharacteristic behavior of his newly wed, Michael is answered with Justine’s detached “what did you expect?” explanation for her mental collapse. He decides to leave her that night when he realizes the marriage is unsalvageable.
The second act is from the levelheaded perspective of Claire. The shifting size of the hidden planet Melancholia becomes increasingly larger, taking the shape of a second moon. It’s a comfort seeing Kiefer Sutherland back in film and out of 24. The character John is a noted astronomer, no-nonsense husband and father who has little patience for Justine and her antics. John assures the family, particularly an overwhelmed Claire, that the planet will be a “fly-by” and carefully pass by Earth making no contact. Claire takes in Justine to live with them in the mansion where her depression escalates rendering her from accomplishing normal day-to-day activities like bathing, eating or getting out of bed. As the planet grows larger and larger in the sky, Justine’s depression shifts to a form of sanity while Claire becomes a nervous wreck believing that the end of the world is evident.
Unlike most apocalyptic thrillers, there is no crazed media blitz in the film or interference from characters outside of the title cast. The only link to the outside world is Claire’s usage of the Internet where she finds articles on the looming planet Melancholia. Von Trier appropriately maintains focus on emotion as dooms day approaches, and not on the hype of the outside world.
“I was drawn to the project because to me Lars is the only director that specifically just writes films for women who can be ugly, and messy and emotional and not have this perfect idea of what women should be in film,” Dunst explains at Cannes.
Although Melancholia received no accolades in the Golden Globe nominations, Dunst was honored with the best actress award at the Cannes Film Festival. Whether or not snub was intentional (lets hope the von Trier verbal faux pas at Cannes has nothing to do with this), we can hope the Academy has better judgment.