Melancholia (2011)

Having witnessed the world disitigrate on impact with rogue planet Melancholia, we flash back to the wedding reception of Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Michael (Alexander Skarsgård), approximately one week previously. Newly-wed, the couple are hours late to the celebration, having become lost in their limousine on the way from the ceremony. Upon arrival, Justine succumbs to depression and quickly alienates everyone at the party, pushing Michael into leaving her, quitting her job and embarrassing sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and her own husband John (Kiefer Sutherland), leading the wedding planner to pretend that the woman who ruined his wedding doesn’t exist. The disaster is short-lived, however, as it is quickly trumped by the approaching planet on a collision course. It soon exerts its hold on the narrative, simultaneously driving the wedge deeper between the siblings while ultimately bringing them closer together in the face of certain death.

How many times has the world ended now? Ball-point figure? While we have seen it attacked by aliens, riddled with comets, conquered by apes, ravaged by virus and infested with zombies, I for one can’t say I have ever seen the end of the world through recognisably human eyes. Soldiers soldier, saviours save the day and scientists do lots of science, but never once has anyone just sat down and had a good cry about the unfairness of it all. We know things aren’t going to end well for Justine, Michael and their assorted guests, there will be no last act miracles, repentant aliens or Space Cowboys, the world will end and all anyone can do is weep; weep until you have no face left to weep out of.

Lars von Trier: self-confessed Nazi, ill-advised public speaker, and one-time depressive, has brought his tried and tested stylings (psychotic women, slow-motion intros, weirdness) to the sci-fi genre, and from the outset it is clear that what is to follow will be unlike anything we have ever witnessed before from the genre. As music from the prelude of Richard Wagner’s opera Tristan und Isolde crescendos throughout, the film evolves from dysfunctional family farce – complete with divorced parents of the bride; cynical mother, Gaby (Charlotte Rampling) and womanising father, Dexter (John Hurt) – into a full-blown, apocalyptic opera of its own. Desperately overblown, every act, every emotion is dialed up to truly staggering heights as Trier’s ode to melancholia reaches its Earth-shattering conclusion.

Kirsten Dunst is quite simply astounding as Justine, beautifully personifying the film’s titular tone while giving a performance which walks the line between catatonia and cruelty with trapeze artistry. She shouldn’t be sympathetic, seizing every opportunity as she does to be truly, utterly maddening, yet Dunst manages to create a character so layered, so complex and so profoundly naked that she grounds the movie, even in all its tragi-comic melodramatics and visual flamboyance, with her own counter-intuitively compelling despondence. Around her, the world crumbles and burns, with Charlotte Gainsbourg’s Claire struggling to cope with a misfortune which she feels alone in experiencing. Her husband internalises his own fears, convincing himself that everything will be OK, while her sister accepts the coming cataclysm with complete calm (the world is in a constant state of apocalypse when you’re depressed), leaving Claire to fear for her family’s safety alone.

While it is undoubtedly not for everyone, Melancholia is a masterpiece in mood and menace, building to a sense of completely hopeless acceptance as Dunst, Gainsbourg and Sutherland’s characters deal with the inevitable apocalypse in different and yet wholly human ways. Beautiful, exhausting and endlessly haunting, the film’s grip is both vice-like and entirely unrelenting, inducing a melancholia which transcends celluloid and cinema, culminating in the first apocalypse movie to forfeit the traditional happy ending, to mesmerising effect.

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About popcornaddiction
I am a psychology graduate, a News Writer for HeyUGuys/BestforFilm and, most importantly, a hopeless popcorn addict.

4 Responses to Melancholia (2011)

  1. Nostra says:

    Wow, great review and I wish I could write like you do. Saw this recently as well (review will be up tomorrow) and thought it was great (9/10)

  2. Pingback: October 2011 – Relax, I interviewed a pilot once! « popcornaddict

  3. Pingback: Films of the Year – 2011 « popcornaddict

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