When I saw the “Melancholia” trailer for the first time I was slightly confused. Was it a movie about a wedding? Was it about depression or mental illness? Was it science fiction? I could not get a grasp on the plot of the story.
This is precisely what sparked my interest.
I heard about “Melancholia” when I was having a conversation with someone about its director, Lars Von Trier and his most recent film at the time, “Antichrist.” I had watched bits and pieces of “Antichrist” and did not care for much of what I had seen.
When I was told to watch the trailer for “Melancholia” I was immediately (and surprisingly) intrigued, considering the opinion I had already formed of Trier.
Lars Von Trier has established himself as one of the most unique and artistic directors in recent history, though critical reception of most of his films were indifferent.
Nevertheless, the content of Von Trier’s newest creation caught the attention of the Charlotte-based Back Alley Film Series which featured the film four nights in a row with each screening selling out.
As I walked into the packed movie theater to see “Melancholia” over the weekend, the dominant feeling I had was pure curiosity. And from the minute the first scene began to the moment when the credits started to roll my curiosity did not waver.
The establishing shot of “Melancholia” lays the groundwork for what to expect out of the movie. Viewers see a close-up of Kirsten Dunst, her hair disheveled and her face weary and strained. But her eyes are calm and while she appears distressed, what her eyes show is that she’s simply tired. But from what? And then we see that there are birds falling from the sky behind her.
The movie’s eight-minute slow-motion prologue depicts various scenes with the same three characters: two women and one young boy. We see Dunst in a wedding dress, we see another women (Charlotte Gainsbourg) frantically carrying her son (Cameron Spurr) and we see several space scenes showing Earth next to another mysterious planet.
The prologue ends with the two planets colliding and the destruction of Earth.
The movie is divided into two parts representing the two sisters of the film. Part 1 entitled “Justine” depicts the storyline of the bride (Dunst), while part 2 entitled “Claire” follows the tribulations of Gainsbourg’s character.
Part 1 takes place at Justine’s wedding reception. She has just married a man named Michael (Alexander Skarsgård) and is at her lavish party at her brother-in-law John’s house (Keifer Sutherland).
The party begins portraying Justine as wonderfully happy with her new husband but quickly changes the audience’s view of her as the night’s events occur. Her emotions are strained as arguments among her family members ensue and become worse as her employer keeps pestering her to work at her own wedding reception.
Tension between Justine and her new husband becomes obvious to viewers and she starts to behave in various destructive ways.
It becomes clear that Justine is deep in a massive world of depression which causes her to break down at her reception.
As the story unfolds, the characters uncover bits and pieces of a new planet called “Melancholia.” The fear that it will hit Earth is present in Claire who has high anxiety.
The rest of the movie is about the internal struggle within different types of people as they are faced with the possibility of the world coming to an end.
Trier’s film is not only compelling in its plot but also in its execution. The camera angles and shots chosen are brilliant and unique. Some of the shots move roughly around while others are still and soft, creating tension during pivotal parts of the movie.
The movie’s colors are also vary from scene to scene. This film brings a variety of colors as some of them are dull and dark and others and bright and vivacious. The brightest colors appear when Melancholia is seen from Earth.
Even though many of the movie’s events are stemmed from the impending fear of a planet collision, “Melancholia” is fully character-driven, with some of the most complex characters I have seen in any film.
Many important events take place off screen and are unbeknownst to the audience, though we witness Justine and Claire go through something catastrophic.
Trier has admitted that he based the character of Justine loosely on himself and during a period of deep depression. He has gone on record saying that what is so intriguing about a depressed person is that while they may seem broken down and defeated at times, they often experience bouts of complete calmness during time of stress and conflict.
What is stunning to watch is how the relationship with the sisters changes throughout the film. Claire is more stable but suffers from continued anxiety. Justine on the other hand struggles to find happiness in anything even on her wedding day.
As the possibility of an impending apocalypse approaches, the characters begin to reveal more about themselves and their attitudes towards life and mortality.
Justine remains calm while Claire is an anxious mess worrying about what might happen to her and her family.
“Melancholia” has been known to resonate with movie goers. I felt very different than I normally feel at the end of most movies. It was such an artistically beautiful and powerful film that I felt as if my mind had been blown. Seeing the movie was truly an experience than a typical viewing.
Trier leaves it up to every viewer to fill in the blanks when it comes to each character, so I think that everyone would have a different interpretation of what really happens in “Melancholia.”
Because of its many complexities, it is hard to explain much of the movie. “Melancholia” is something everyone should experience for themselves.