Sometimes, I come across a film that is so amazing that it totally redefines what I think is possible in the medium of cinema and threatens to totally change everything about the way I view the world. Melancholia was one of those films.
In Melancholia, Kirsten Dunst gives an incredible and hopefully career-defining performance as Justine, a woman who suffers from terrible, numbing depression (also known as melancholia — see what he does there?).
Throughout the first of two specially delineated acts of the film, Writer-Director Lars von Trier (Antichrist, Dancer in the Dark, The Idiots) seems to return to his former self, constructing a complex — but occasionally humorous — drama a lá The Idiots as Justine completely ruins her wedding (and marriage) because of her depression. Though I found this half refreshingly real, raw and biting, it was an enormous surprise to see this kind of film from von Trier, who has certainly transformed
The second part of the film is more like what I had expected going in to this film. Having completely lost all sense of hope and self esteem on her wedding night, the bereaved Dunst moves in with her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and her family. While father (Keifer Sutherland) and son (Cameron Spurr, who is adorable!) delightedly prepare for the upcoming fly-by of the rogue planet Melancholia (see what he did there?), Justine and Claire seem to share the belief that Melancholia is on a direct collision course with earth. In this shared fear of inevitable apocalypse, we see some of the most beautiful and complex sibling interaction that I think has ever been placed onto film.
Despite all their differences, Melancholia and its sibling motion picture Antichrist share many elements. Both deal deeply with issue of shame, guilt, grace, and depression. Von Trier has said that Melancholia was an investigation of his battle with depression during the writing and filming of Antichrist, so these connections make a lot of sense. They both heavily feature one form of apocalypse or earthly annihilation, and they both use a slow-motion montage set to classical music as their beginning (Antichrist uses Handel; Melancholia uses Wagner).
Antichrist and Melancholia were also both filmed digitally, and you can tell. However, let me make myself clear: when I am saying this, it is NOT an insult. The Social Network, Take Shelter, Antichrist, Melancholia and many others share a particular look and feel that seems to be unique to digital. I can’t put my finger on what it is (I have an inkling suspicion it has to do with exaggerated color depth), but I love it and think it’s beautiful. If I ever get around to making a feature length motion picture, this is definitely an aesthetic which I want to recreate.
Though von Trier clearly intended Melancholia to be viewed in one sitting, I just couldn’t do it. The first part was so heavy that I felt compelled to take a ten minute intermission and then return. Personally, I don’t believe that this hindered the film’s ability to connect with me, but you can feel free to disagre in the comments.
Overall, I believe that Melancholia is a must-see. It’s one of the best films of 2011.
I give Melancholia a 5/5.