I officially have no idea the best way to approach watching a Lars von Trier movie- not to mention how to really get my thoughts together for it. This will be my best attempt at doing so, but this still comes days after finishing the film and desperately searching for some sort of palette cleanser to lift me out of the funk MELANCHOLIA plummeted me into.
Lars von Trier has a pretty clear and distinct vision here- though his vision is decidedly bleak and depressing. MELANCHOLIA is the final days of humanity as seen from the perspectives of two sisters, Justine and Claire. Kirsten Dunst plays the uber depressed Justine who has her new husband walk out on her right after the reception and Charlotte Gainsbourg plays Claire who has some deep seeded resentment towards Justine but still loves her unconditionally. The two are the focal points of the film and both play the parts fantastically, but the other side of the sword is that they are almost too convincing as both sides of the story are dark and depressing. In the end the film by way of the performances just sucked the life out of me- though the length and sluggish pace really didn’t help much either.
The first half of the film is Justine’s wedding reception after her marriage to Michael, played by Alexander Skarsgard. Eventually the event befalls a downward spiral when Justine’s mother shits on the whole union, metaphorically. This half of the film sets up the characters nicely but is a showcase for performances only and they are all very good. The planet of doom, Melancholia has not shown itself at this point, but Justine’s drastic mood change doesn’t give us tidings of good things to come either.
The second half focuses on Claire, who is extremely worried about the discovery of a planet that has been hiding behind the sun and may or may not be on a collision course with Earth. This half of the film again is mostly about performances from Dunst and Gainsbourg, but the best part for me- at least the less depressing part- is the visuals of the planet, Melancholia, bearing down on Earth. The idea of course is depressing that this planet forebodes the end of all humanity, but the visual is actually as beautiful as it is haunting.
There are a handful of pretty great supporting performances from Kiefer Sutherland, Alexander Skarsgard, Stellan Skarsgard and John Hurt. Sutherland has the bigger role of the supporting cast as he plays Claire’s husband, John, who spends most of his screen time complaining about the money he’s spending and the fact that there’s no way Melancholia will hit Earth. For the most part though, the film spends most of its time laying out the depths of Dunst’s depression and acceptance of her own death and the developing depression of Claire’s unwillingness to accept the possibility they may all die as Melancholia approaches.
My conflicted feelings for the film fall on the labored pace which is super slow and with all the utter despair on display it created for a very troubling viewing- one I was very close to stopping and coming back to once I was able to get my happiness meter charged back up. I hoped desperately for a character to come out and be the anchor that snaps one of these characters out of their sobbing and add a more heartwarming presence in this world- I realize of course given the subject matter and the ultimate demise of humanity that me just wishing for hope was in and of itself playing right into the hands of von Trier and his depressing opus.
The most obvious thing I can say about MELANCHOLIA is that it should be avoided at all costs if you’re having a bad day or are even slightly of the depressed variety. As the film dwells in the depression of its characters and offers little on the front of hope or relief I failed to really connect with the film in a meaningful way. Outside of the performances which are fantastic, I recognize the skill at which von Trier operates although his style is very hit and miss with me. MELANCHOLIA while hard hitting in its portrayal of depression and coming to terms with death is a bit light on its ability to be entertaining and truly memorable. If one day the film is a haunting prediction about the true end of the world I really hope that the scientists that name our ultimate demise don’t bring a heavy hand down on a term that literally refers to sadness or depression- subtly is something that von Trier was not going for here.
Reviewed By: Luke (@CrummyLuke on Twitter)