Friday, July 13, 2012


Directed by Lars von Trier.
2011. Rated R, 135 minutes.
Kirsten Dunst
Charlotte Gainsbourg
Keifer Sutherland
Stellan Skarsgard
Alexander Skarsgard
Brady Corbet
John Hurt
Charlotte Rampling

Justine (Dunst) and Claire (Gainsbourg) are a pair of emotionally unstable sisters with a half of the movie Melancholia devoted to each of them. I mean this literally. It’s divided pretty much down the middle. Part 1 is called “Justine”, part 2 “Claire”. For what it’s worth, Justine is the more damaged of the two. Her problems play out across both chapters. She suffers from severe depression. At times it cripples her to the point she can’t even will herself out of bed for days on end. Though married with her own family, Claire spends lots of time tending to Justine. Perhaps she also suffers from depression. She’s prone to break down and cry when things get to be overwhelming. This seems to be at least once a day. She’s also freaked out by our pending doom. More on that, later.

As part 1 opens, Justine has just gotten married. We go on to witness one of the most bizarre wedding receptions in the history of mankind. It’s held at the luxurious estate, golf course included, by Claire and her husband John (Sutherland). The location is the only thing luxurious about this reception, though. Justine’s mom announces to everyone that she doesn’t believe in marriage and, I’m paraphrasing here, “all you people suck.” Her boss sends his newly hired nephew to follow her around to bug her about the ad campaign they’re working on. Justine herself disappears for long stretches to have weepy conversations with Claire, who’s often sent to fetch her, or one of their parents whom she seeks out. All the while she alternately teases and gives the cold shoulder to her new hubby. None of it makes a whole lot of sense except to show that Justine is indeed depressed. And trust me, I’m leaving out some of the more colorful moments.

For part 2, we switch from disheartening drama to bleak science-fiction. Sorta. This is where that pending doom thing comes in. We see the extent to which Claire goes for her sister. It’s a tiresome job that strains her marriage. Justine eventually snaps out of her funk, somewhat. Once she’s up and about she exudes the kind of attitude that makes us want to smack her. Regardless, we shift our focus to Claire who is understandably freaked out by the heavy-handedly named Melancholia, a planet suddenly very visible in our sky. It’s visible because it is racing towards us. The question is will it actually hit us and end it all. John thinks it will not. Everything on Google says it will. So essentially, this becomes a movie about whether or not you can trust what you read online. OK, maybe not, but the subtext is there. Unlike more standard sci-fi, we don’t see armies of scientists trying desperately to come up with a solution. Bruce Willis and a rag-tag bunch of drillers turned astronauts aren’t sent up to deploy a nuke. Instead, we get Claire hoping against hope that things will turn out for the best.

On its own, each part is an interesting character study. More accurately, one and a half of the two parts is an interesting character study of Justine. Up to that point, everything we see of Claire is merely a reaction to her sister. The portion dedicated to Claire is not as complex and therefore less compelling. Of course, it’s saddled with the urgency of another planet possibly slamming into Earth. The problem is, especially with the dearth of characters in part 2, it’s less an apocalyptic event than an overwrought metaphor that overwhelms the story of the two sisters rather than aid in its telling. The fate of the world is clearly less important than the sanity of these two women. The planet merely succeeds in making a film that’s already a downer even more of one. That said, Melancholia is a mixed bag for me. It’s artistic and well-made but pessimistic without even a hint of humor. It’s interesting and different, yet relentlessly dreary. In other words, just forget about feeling good for a while after watching it.

MY SCORE: 7/10

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