Movie Review: von Trier’s ‘Melancholia’ and the Infinite Sadness

It’s the end of the world as we know it, but do you feel fine? If you are a character in Lars von Trier’s new film Melancholia then it depends on your mental state. If you’re Kirsten Dunst, a manic depressive newlywed at the film’s beginning, then you’re not too concerned. But, if you are any one else, you should be afraid of the titular rogue planet, twice the size of Earth, heading our way. That is the basic premise of the notoriously independent von Trier’s first foray into the science fiction/disaster film genre.

The plot thickens

Broken into two parts (Part one: Justine / Part two: Claire) the film opens with a newlyweds Dunst, playing Justine, and True Blood’s Alexander Skarsgard, son of von Trier regular Stellan Skarsgard, comically arriving to a remote manor house for the reception. What begins as a lackluster evening of bland toasts and boring music soon turns into one of the most bizarre and uncomfortable wedding ceremonies in film history. The mother of the bride informs everyone how awful any marriage is, the father of the bride steals everyone’s spoons, the best man (and employer of the bride) tries to work on a new advertising campaign for his firm with his employee and the bride disappears for long periods of time (once to take an hour long bath, the next to sleep with a guest on the luxurious golf course surrounding the manor). Things get stranger, much stranger in the second half when the rogue planet should pass by Earth in five days. Or will it just pass by?

Still acting crazy

One is led to believe the strange behavior of everyone is motivated by fluctuations in gravitational forces or atmospheric change, but knowing the director’s M.O., his characters would probably still act crazy with or without an eminent apocalypse.

Dunst, who became von Trier’s third leading lady to take home the best actress award at the Cannes Film Festival, walks through the film in a cryptic, dazed mood that is on the point of irritating if only it was not for her whispered doomsday prophecies. While not nearly as fearless a performance as Charlotte Gainsbourg’s, who plays Dunst sister Claire in Melancholia, turn in von Trier’s previous film Antichrist, the former Spiderman co-star ‘brings it on’ in a role most younger actresses would have turned down.

A director’s hatred of American culture

Von Trier, a Danish filmmaker renowned for his hatred of America and his handling of actors on the set (Björk refuses to make another film after emotional and physical abuse on the set of Dancer in the Dark) creates depressing, but evocative atmospheres unlike any director currently working. If you can’t handle bleakness in film then you should just skip anything from his canon. But if you like artistic, deliberately paced films then I highly recommend Melancholia as it is the directors most accessible work and based off your opinion of this film will determine if you like his style. Von Trier is a definite case of love him or loathe him.

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