MELANCHOLIA (Lars von Trier, 2011)
ever there was a director prepared to make a film about depression and
the end of the world, Danish provocateur Lars von Trier would be the
one. His well-publicized battles with depression informed his notorious
previous effort, ANTICHRIST, and pervade his latest, MELANCHOLIA.
a prologue that beautifully envisions a terrible end, MELANCHOLIA
splits into two halves, each devoting attention to the sisters Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg). Justine
has wrestled with depression for a long time, and not even her wedding
day, which comprises the film’s first half, can keep her in high
title is also the name of a massive, newly discovered planet that had
been hiding behind the sun. Scientists expect its orbit to pass by
close to Earth, but in MELANCHOLIA’s second half Claire fears that this
heavenly body will smash our planet to bits.
associated with depression, like dreary, bleak, and sluggish, aren’t
applicable to MELANCHOLIA. Manuel Alberto Claro’s gorgeous
cinematography produces slick, saturated colors in the prologue; warm,
deep browns and yellows at the reception; and light and hazy blues and
white in the second half.
its subject matter, MELANCHOLIA is quite funny, especially during the
wedding reception. Von Trier, who is likely riffing on fellow Dogme 95
filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg’s THE CELEBRATION, has great fun observing a
festive ceremony fall apart. Udo Kier’s fussy wedding planner,
Charlotte Rampling’s grouchy mother of the bride, and a peeved Kiefer
Sutherland, who never fails to remind the necessary parties that he’s
paying for it all, highlight the prickly humor around this supposedly
existence hangs in the balance in MELANCHOLIA, von Trier’s fatalistic
embrace of impending doom is starkly beautiful and strangely reassuring.
Without question Justine is the director’s surrogate, someone who
finds comfort in the awareness that years of despondency and anxiety
were not for naught. Dunst’s remarkable performance conveys the emotional swings and physical effects from her long, internal struggle and the peace she makes with it. Now that her worst possible fear can be confirmed,
what else is there to do but submit to the inevitable? In a film full
of strong images, its final one is most striking for what it says about
accepting those things that cannot be changed.