Review: 'Melancholia'

By Heather Leszczewicz TGK Correspondent Lars von Trier 's " Melancholia " is a beautiful film to watch as well as extremel...

By Heather Leszczewicz
TGK Correspondent

Lars von Trier's "Melancholia" is a beautiful film to watch as well as extremely confusing. Without a doubt, it is not your normal apocalyptic film. There are no plans to save the world or a hero figuring out what to do. There's no television or radio or newspaper in sight. It is what it is: The end of the world seen through the eyes of a single family.

The movie is set in three parts. The first eight minutes of the film could be considered the prologue. It's dedicated to scenarios and glimpses of the Earth being sucked into another planet, the bushes and a large sundial in a courtyard each have two shadows, a bride, child and woman stand on a lawn alone with a blue planet and the sun in the sky. The gorgeous yet unsettling images are set in super slow motion and to music from "Tristan und Isolde," which could be perceived as sort of happy or hopeful in tone. All are foreshadowing the impending apocalypse and the reactions of the lead characters.

The following two parts are named for the two leads, sisters Justine (played by Kirsten Dunst) and Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg). In Justine's section, we are taken to her wedding reception. She has married Michael (Alexander Skarsgar). Her sister Claire and brother-in-law John (Kiefer Sutherland) are hosting the shindig at their mansion/golf course. The reception goes until dawn, and as the hours pass, Justine becomes more and more depressed, causing more agitation with the other guests as well. She ends up driving almost everyone but her sister away.

Then in Claire's section, Justine is almost catatonic from her depression until the rogue planet threatening Earth is brought to the forefront. Justine becomes the epitome of calm while Claire goes from being a motherly figure to an anxious, trembling creature as she worries about the planet destroying the world.

The movie is all about Claire and Justine; all the other characters are superfluous or cannon fodder. Although, the rogue planet could be considered the third main character.

Melancholia as a title is apropos. It has two definitions, much like our two leading ladies: "Deep sadness or gloom" or "A mental condition marked by persistent depression and ill-founded fears." Von Trier weaves this depressed and sad feeling throughout the film and it sticks with a viewer for some time afterward. Both Justine and Claire exhibit the behavior at one point and time.

Whether or not Justine's depression at her wedding and how on edge some of the characters were at the beginning of the film had anything to do with the rogue planet is a slight mystery. If you didn't know the summary of "Melancholia" prior to settling down with the film or didn't take the prologue as a moment of foreshadowing, there's a high probability for confusion. There's less of a plot for Justine, while Claire's plot is all about that planet.

Justine's section had some picturesque moments, but there's no real rhyme or reason for a lot of what happened, especially the impromptu bath she decided to take in the middle of the reception. Claire's part makes more sense, especially when there's actual explanation for certain actions.


Dunst does shine in "Melancholia." Although, it's slightly odd how Justine is the only non-Brit in her immediate family. Dunst doesn't even try to fake an accent.

When you think of Dunst, films like "Bring it On" or "Spiderman" come to mind. She doesn't always push herself or take roles that force her to truly perform. The looks she gives, how hopeless she may seem and the emotions she portrays as Justine are close to perfect. She doesn't have to say much to have a jaw-dropping effect. The artwork used for the film, of Dunst in the wedding gown lying in water with her veil floating around her, was one of the most stunning movie posters of the year (see image above).

Gainsbourg, as Claire, is also fabulous. You can see her go through the transformation of a slightly exasperated sister to a caring, motherlike figure to an anxious and freaked out woman.

If "Melancholia" doesn't get an Oscar nomination for cinematography, it'd be surprising. The best and most beautiful scenes have to be the bookends of the film itself: the prologue, along with the climactic world explosion. The last scene, is quiet and introspective. Just Justine, Claire and Claire's son Leo sitting out in the open as the world is overtaken and bursts into different colors.

While the story isn't always the easiest to follow, it is one pretty film to watch.

R.

/ 5

Official trailer:

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The Gold Knight - Latest Academy Awards news, predictions and insight: Review: 'Melancholia'
Review: 'Melancholia'
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