Movie review: Melancholia

Last Sunday afternoon, after a jam-packed weekend, I curled up in my lounge room with a cup of tea and a packet of Grain Waves, and popped a DVD on.

If you didn’t guess from the name, Melancholia isn’t a very cheery movie. Try not to feature it during a first date, a slumber party or family fun night. I can guarantee you will finish this movie feeling more glum than you started off.

Melancholia has two main themes. It is about depression. It is also an apocalyptic film. The movie is divided into two parts, the first half named after Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and the second after her sister, Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg).

In the first half, Justine and her new husband, Michael (Alexander Skarsgard) arrive at their wedding reception: a lavish, dusk-to-dawn dinner affair held in the mansion of Claire and her rather rich husband John (Kiefer Sutherland).

The beautiful landscape of the mansion is a poignant backdrop for the tragic and subtle events that unfold.

As the dinner progresses, we see the cracks form in Justine’s demeanor. Claire and John struggle to hold the family and the party together, and Justine wills herself to be happy, but her deep melancholy is a terrifying, irresistible internal force.

In the second half, Justine, who is now suffering from severe depression, has come to live with her sister. The movie follows the different responses of Claire, Justine, John and Claire’s son as a previously hidden planet, Melancholia, swings close to Earth’s atmosphere in a celestial phenomenon known as a fly-by. John’s excitement contrasts with Claire’s barely concealed anxiety, which then highlights Justine’s growing calmness in the face of impending annihilation.

Director Lars Von Trier said his inspiration for the film stemmed from a bout of depression he had experienced. He wanted to show that depressed people remain calm under intensely stressful circumstances.

Dunst and Gainsbourg’s performances shine through the screen–the sisters are played with subtlety and depth. The crumbling of Justine’s outward happiness is particularly painful to watch, as she fights a losing battle against her deteriorating state of mind. Gainsbourg is believable as the responsible, increasingly anxious sister.

Despite the beauty of Melancholia’s landscape, It is a somewhat difficult film to watch. The most visually stunning moments of the film are the opening montage–a series of artistically compelling scenes in extreme slo-mo, played to the haunting dissonance of Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde–as well as the final scenes of the planet Melancholia hanging over the Earth.

On a final note, at 130 minutes long, it’s a hefty watch. Not a movie for everyone, but worth a sitting if you’re after something beautiful, poignant and subtle.


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