In Review: Melancholia

By Maryann O’Connor

After watching Melancholia I stepped out into the sunlight, blinking, feeling bereft. All I knew for sure was that I needed chocolate.

There are two parts to this narrative, the first is concerned with Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Michael’s (Alexander Skarsgård) wedding reception and all the attendant family dramas. The second part is concerned with a rogue planet by the name of Melancholia, which is threatening to smash into Earth. Yes, you read that correctly.

We first see Justine and her new husband being driven to their wedding reception, which will take place at her sister’s house. The driver is having trouble weaving his way along the country lanes in the stretch limousine hired for the occasion, so the bride and groom both have a go at getting the hefty vehicle round one particularly tricky corner. There are smiles and kisses, so far so happy.

Once they reach their destination, it soon becomes clear that there is not much celebration to be found on this wedding day.

Justine leaves her reception for myriad reasons: to drive around the golf course in a buggy, to wander the grounds, to get away from everyone including her new husband. Witnessing her mother (Charlotte Rampling) and brother in law’s (Kiefer Sutherland) contribution to proceedings, you can’t help but feel a great amount of sympathy for Justine. Her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) seems to be the only one trying to hold it all together. Justine keeps saying she is scared and seems to feel like her world is ending. It does.

Then comes the planet, Melancholia…

Justine’s nephew and annoying brother-in-law are very excited about this ‘fly-by’ planet, which by now is approaching earth at a steady pace. They believe it will get just close enough to provide views available only once in a thousand lifetimes. In contrast, Justine is stuck in her bed and Claire is very ill-at-ease, seeking constant reassurance. However, as the planet gets closer, things begin to change…

It is a very visually pleasing film overall; the shots of Claire and John’s house, the night sky, Justine’s midnight walk and the dramatic film prologue are all well done. There is an eerie and stark feel throughout, mirroring the hopelessness of depression. The special effects employed for the approaching planet are just about enough but you will probably find yourself wanting more glimpses of the beautiful Melancholia, as I did.

One area in which the film does falter slightly is its  length and some scenes do seem to drag. You are left with the distinct feeling that director Lars Von Trier was trying to preserve as much of his work of art as possible: understandable, but this makes for a fidgety audience, especially when subjects of such magnitude are under the microscope.

There are some striking performances, particularly from Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg. Dunst successfully leaves her more cheery and teen characters behind and is convincing in this much darker role. Charlotte Rampling’s turn as bile-filled mother of the bride is brilliantly bitter and very memorable. Stellan Skarsgård is startlingly nasty as Justine’s pushy boss.

Thought provoking, absurd, colourful and blunt: it’s a good film but you would have to be in a very sunny mood to even think of watching it. Don’t forget to bring some chocolate.

Maryann has awarded Melancholia four Torches of Truth

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