US Release Date: 11-18-2011
Directed by: Lars von Trier
- Kirsten Dunst, as
- Charlotte Gainsbourg, as
- Alexander Skarsgard, as
- Kiefer Sutherland, as
- Brady Corbet, as
- Charlotte Rampling, as
- Jesper Christensen, as
- Little Father
- John Hurt, as
- Stellan Skarsgard, as
- Udo Kier, as
- Wedding Planner
- Cameron Spurr as
Kiefer Sutherland, Cameron Spurr, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Kirsten Dunst in Melancholia.
Melancholia, the new film by writer/director Lars von Trier (Dogville, Antichrist), left me completely torn in my opinion of its cinematic merits. He makes personal films that are usually intense on some level and often deal with the theme of evil. Melancholia fits that description but adds an unusual science fiction angle to the mix. On one hand Melancholia is a beautifully crafted movie with an intriguing premise that features some fine acting from its stars, most notably Kirsten Dunst in a role sure to turn heads and garner award nominations. On the other hand it is overlong and so methodically paced that it is rather tedious to sit through.
It begins with a montage of images in super-slow motion showing scenes of several of its characters interspersed with a huge celestial body crashing into Earth. Then the story proper begins. At this point we don’t know if this image of the earth colliding with a huge unknown object is real and the rest of the story a flashback to the events leading up to the crash, or if it’s a premonition in the form of a dream of events yet to come. The setting is a very wealthy estate in an unspecified time and place, although it appears to be contemporary.
The first half of the movie is set at a wedding reception where a depressed bride (Dunst) begins acting out in strange ways. She squats down in her wedding gown to take a pee in the middle of a field outside where the reception is being held and later has spontaneous sex with a man in that same field. At one point the guests observe and briefly comment on an unknown and brightly lit object in the night sky but other than that no mention is made of the impending doom until the second half of the movie. At which point we discover just what has been causing such erratic behavior in this seemingly normal young woman.
It seems a rogue planet is orbiting through our solar system. Scientists (including Kiefer Sutherland who is married to Dunst’s sister played by Charlotte Gainsbourg) have named this new blue planet Melancholia. He assures his wife and family that Melancholia will pass close to Earth but won’t collide with it. It already passed safely by Mercury and Venus.
Dunst, however, has psychic abilities, or as she tells her sister, “I just know things.” She is sure that Melancholia is on a collision course with Earth. And what’s more she insists that it is because life on Earth is evil and she goes on to say that she absolutely knows that we are all alone in the universe. If she is speaking for Lars then he has an incredibly cynical view towards humanity and life in general.
The science fiction angle of the story is very intriguing. But the director keeps the focus entirely on his small cast of characters. Just how the rest of the world is handling the crisis is never shown. The only time we get a glimpse of the bigger picture is when Gainsbourg does an online search under Melancholia. There are several shots with the image of this blue planet in the sky above Earth that are breathtakingly beautiful. This filmmaker definitely knows how to create and sustain a consistently haunting mood and sense of impending doom. Still I found Melancholia to be ultimately disappointing.
Kirsten Dunst, Alexander Skarsgard, Keifer Sutherland and Charlotte Gainsbourg in Melancholia
Lars von Trier has been quoted as saying, "Put my American trilogy together and you'll have one hell of a grim evening. And you will not be entertained at all!" At least he fully understands that he does not, in fact, make movies that people will want to watch.
As Patrick wrote, Melancholia has some great moments and shots but taken as a whole it is a burden to watch. Justine is a mental case. She is emotionally all over the place. It starts with her happily arriving late to her wedding reception. We then meet her utterly dysfunctional family. Her mother is bitter. Her father is obnoxious. Her sister Claire is the caretaker. Justine's husband wants to give her anything he can to make her happy, but she is beyond help.
Justine's moods are erratic and she constantly retreats away from everyone, finding excuses to be by herself, even though she is surrounded by family and friends. Is she suffering from melancholic depression or is she experiencing a form of lunacy, the age old belief that a full moon creates strange moods in some people, only here it is a planet instead of the moon.
The sense of impending doom found in the second half of the film darkens the mood even more. Justine disappears into the background while Claire takes center stage. She is the level headed one in the family. She spends the entire film taking care of her sister and son while relying on her husband for support. She is ultimately though, all alone in her world. Look at the scene where she asks Justine to join her on the terrace. She is the one character I pitied.
Lars Von Trier clearly makes films with a visually artistic eye, but he puts very little effort into making his films entertaining. He could have trimmed so many scenes without losing any impact on the final product. Like Dogville, Melancholia is a bloated, depressing melodrama and von Trier comes across as a very self-important person not daring to trim his film to a watchable length.
Photos © Copyright Zentropa Entertainments (2011)