So, school has ended and, with free time and a need to distract myself, I thought I’d get back to reviewing because of the positive feedback I’ve gotten via Facebook, Twitter, and e-mail.
Genre: Drama, Science Fiction
Director(s): Lars von Trier
Writer(s): Lars von Trier
Cast: Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kiefer Sutherland, Alexander Skarsgård, Stellan Skarsgård, Cameron Spurr, John Hurt, Charlotte Rampling
Summary: Set presumably in modern day America, Melancholia is told in two parts. The first part, “Justine,” takes place during the wedding reception of Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and her new husband Michael (Alexander Skarsgård), who, at first, seem plagued only by limo troubles and tardiness. However, it quickly becomes quite clear that not all is well, with Justine’s bizarre, flirtatious father (John Hurt) beginning a toast that devolves into a public debate with his cruel ex-wife (Charlotte Rampling), who denounces marriage and labels Justine a fool. Further rebuffed by her sister, Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg), who is angry that Justine is depressed on her wedding day, as well as her brother-in-law, John (Kiefer Sutherland), who keeps reminding her that he is paying for the wedding and she best enjoy it, Justine grows increasingly distant throughout the night. Michael, bewildered by her change in mood, strives to cheer her up, an effort which proves fruitless as Justine takes a bath instead of remaining at the reception, drinks excessively, and becomes preoccupied with a strange, red star that John labels “Antares.” Caught up in indecision and sudden fear, Justine suddenly to draw the conclusion that life is meaningless.
The second part, “Claire,” takes place not long after the wedding, with Justine and Michael having predictably separated and Justine moving in with Claire, John, and their son Leo (Cameron Spurr). Justine is incredibly depressed, neglecting her own health and hygeine, and often speaks in cryptic phrases about death as Claire tries to care for her. John, an amateur astronomer, however, is more focused upon a giant, blue planet that has eclipsed Antares, called “Melancholia,” which is supposed to pass the Earth. Though Justine eventually gets past her frantic outbursts and begins to care for herself, she remains flat and depressive, telling her sister that life is meaningless and Earth, overcome with evil, is destined to be destroyed by Melancholia. Disturbed, Claire becomes increasingly obsessed with the potential of the world ending and slips into hysteria, struggling to care for her son and believe her husband’s insistence that the planets will never touch.
Young Leo bends wires to make a measuring device that can gauge Melancholia’s closeness to Earth.
Review: From the very beginning, Melancholia lives up to its title, as it is clearly an exploration of depression, suffering, and the value of life as perceived by two very troubled women. Against the backdrop of the looming planet Melancholia, a symbol, perhaps, for the imminence of death, the main characters struggle with familial dysfunction, clinical depression, and a sense of meaninglessness, all of which are portrayed so realistically that one cannot help but relate. Justine’s behavior is often frustrating and irrational for both her and those around her, a very accurate facet of clinical depression, of the often sourceless feeling that all is hopeless. With movies often equating “being sad” with clinical depression, I commend this film for its ability to grasp what clinical depression is and make the audience feel all of its frustration, anger, and confusion.
As far as the acting goes, I was thoroughly impressed by Dunst, who truly proves herself as a dramatic actress here and, in my opinion, deserved at least an Oscar nomination. She is often so convincing it’s genuinely unsettling, while giving off a mysterious vibe that often provokes viewers to question if Justine has psychic powers. Gainsbourg, who has impressed me with past roles, creates one of the most sympathetic and understandable characters in the film, despite her increasing hysteria and internal conflict. Likewise, Kiefer Sutherland’s performance here is my favorite of his, with his clear portrayal of John’s materialistic nature and tendency to only believe what he wants, even in the face of contrary evidence, making for a solid character. Even the supporting roles are fantastic, with John Hurt and Charlotte Rampling playing easily hateable parents, Stellan Skarsgård creating a truly despicable businessman, and Alexander Skarsgård and Cameron Spurr serving as two focal points for the audience’s sympathy.
Also, on a more technical note, the cinematography for the film is absolutely beautiful, particularly in the symbolic opening sequence, which predicts various characters’ fates. Equally, the soundtrack is very strong, with Richard Wagner’s song “Tristan und Isolde Prelude” fitting perfectly into the back- and foreground of events.
Overall, I found this film to be powerful in its realism, even as it relies heavily upon an element of science fiction. While Melancholia certainly does not have a host of loveable characters, its cast is definitely believable, when one realizes that, in life, there are more troubled and even plainly unpleasant people than there are commendable ones. Though certainly not a film one should choose for a light viewing, as it never relents for a light moment or humor, it is definitely one that will provoke viewers to question life as we know it.