Review: Melancholia

Lars Von Trier is one of the most controversial film directors of our time. Besides his films that continue to push boundaries, the limits for audiences and the overall themes and suggestive material, his interviews are just as or even more substantial considering that he jokes around about Hitler and the Nazi party, and that he also is a Nazi (JK! He says to the Cannes press). Simplicity is not in his agenda, and ordinary is never the goal. Likewise with his newest film, Melancholia.

Melancholia is a film focused on the relationship between two sisters, Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg), where in Part 1, Justine is battling chronic depression, which inhibits her wedding and her overall ability to care and love others in her life. Her struggles within her own mind conflict and eventually damage her from her career to her personal life. There is no explanation for her depression, other than glimpses of her parents’ divorce, but that in no way is the reason. In part 2, we see Claire, the healthy sister who has a normal life, married and also has a young son as part of her family. The aftermath of Justine’s wedding debacle has enabled Justine’s condition to become even worse, which forces her to stay with Claire and her family in their beautiful mansion. Claire is normal, but her struggle with her sister creates a frustrating and disturbing relationship where her priorities and her overall well-being is flustered and uncontrollable.

Oh by the way, another planet crashes into Earth.

That’s right, the film is not centered but infused with the end of the world type destruction as another planet, Melancholia, is projected to hit Earth at 60,000 mph and completely destroy all life on Earth. We see glimpses of Melancholia in both part 1 and 2, but it is more of a focus in part 2 considering that where they originally believed that Melancholia was not going to hit Earth, it does a “dance of death” where it slingshots back towards our planet. Whoa indeed. The focus is not on Melancholia and its destruction of our planet, but it’s the difference in reaction and responses of the two sisters that we are engulfed by. Justine is depressed. Claire is not. But Justine is so indifferent about Melancholia, her upcoming death and the end of the world that she merely sits there, without any fears or worries, and waits for it to happen. Claire is the complete opposite where she’s emotional, frightened and utterly distressed that life is about to end. In the waking moments, they both sit there, one motionless and lifeless, the other in complete disarray. Depression is inflicting, no matter what the situation or circumstances is, and its effects on an individual can be heartbreaking.

This is my mind, one of the most beautiful films I’ve ever seen. This “Tree of Life” with an actual plot. The first 10 minutes of the film is put on extremely slow-motion images where we see the main characters, still in time, while destruction is waiting to come. No matter what people may say about Von Trier, he is masterful in art and a grand filmmaker. The ability to depict an image with such power and boldness is something we as moviegoers should never take for granted, and unlike Terrence Malick’s motivation to just piss of the audience (just a guess), Von Trier includes the audience in the event. Beauty with destruction. Peace with dismay. Other than the imagery, we get a well-rounded performance from this ensemble of a cast that includes Stellan Skarsgard, John Hurt and Kiefer Sutherland. The two sisters, however, played by Dunst and Gainsbourg shine, most notably, Dunst. This is by far her best performance in her career. Nothing comes close. You believe every emotion that she has from her faked happiness during her wedding to her dark and depressed futility. She knocks down every part of Justine, and from beginning to end, you believe in Justine’s horror.

“Melancholia” will definitely be overlooked during the Awards season and in the Oscars just because it doesn’t have much buzz, it’s a Lars Von Trier film and it’s quite depressing (a film about depression being depressing…no…) but that doesn’t disguise the quality of this film.

As this being my first review, the system for ratings is quite simple. A full clock means it’s completely worth your time, 3/4 of a clock means it’s worth most of your time, half means it’s questionable how much time it’s worth, 1/4 means it’s most likely worth a little of your time, and an empty clock means go do something else.

“Melancholia” is worth:  (That’s a full clock)

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