Melancholia (2011)

Director: Lars von Trier

Writer: Lars von Trier

Stars: Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gaisbourg, Kiefer Sutherland

It took me over two years, but I finally watched Melancholia. Maybe it was the daunting runtime (2 hrs 16 mins) or the mixed reviews, but either way decided that enough was enough. I would tackle this Danish beast once and for all. And I must say that it was worth the wait.

Melancholia-poster-002Lars von Trier’s masterpiece opens with a series of strikingly beautiful other-worldly images, and for about the first ten minutes I found myself questioning whether or not the film would ever actually begin. (Although I was not necessarily anxious to dive into a storyline quite yet, since the opening shots were so incredible.) I knew I was in for a long ride, one that would take me to unfamiliar places, with foreign sights and sounds, and von Trier did not disappoint.

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Part One of the film centers around Justine, a depressive bride who has just been married to a caring and optimistic man (played by Alexander Skarsgard) who loves her dearly– perhaps too much for her own good– since she leaves him on their wedding night. The actual reasoning for the separation is a bit fuzzy; we catch bits of dialog in handheld-shot scenes suggesting that Justine can never truly be happy, despite the best efforts of her family and her newlywed husband.

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The air is thick with mystery at the wedding reception, as the camera moves smoothly throughout the party, following Justine wherever she goes, and catching the guests’ reactions to her just in time. Instead of feeling sorry for Justine, we get the sense that she is rather self-centered, keeping the entire party waiting while she takes a bath or strolls through the estate’s grounds. We’re not yet sure what is on Justine’s mind, and it is not until the second half of the film that we begin to find out.

melancholia7Part Two of the film begins, and the focus is now on Claire, Justine’s older sister. Unlike the opening of the film, we are given no time to prepare for this drastic switch, and the change in mood– from romantic and secretive to cold and raw– took me a bit off guard. The color pallet now takes a dip into cooler tones, as if to smooth over the transition, but  I wound up practically forgetting all that I had previously seen.

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Little by little, the underlying conflict of a new planet’s presence (appropriately entitled Melancholia) is unveiled. Claire’s astronomy-obsessed husband, John, (played by Kiefer Sutherland) dotes over his telescope and reassures Claire that they are safe from harm. But despite John’s adamance,  we begin to feel that the Earth’s destruction is imminent and any control that humans attempt to impose on the situation is in vain. In a way, we know from the beginning of the film that everything is doomed; this is what makes Melancholia a true tragedy.

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Lars von Trier mocks the optimists and sides with the pessimists in his epic drama. His innovative take on the apocalyptic tale is refreshing and gorgeously construed. Typical of the director’s style, von Trier sets the bar so high this time that it is literally in outer space. Although it is arguable that von Trier’s ambitions were too far-fetched in the making of Melancholia, causing inevitable gaps in the plot (namely the broken bridge between Parts One and Two) his talent for breathtaking imagery is left unbreached. When dealing with the end of the world, there are bound to be questions left unanswered. However, a second (or third) viewing of the film will be necessary for further investigation. God only knows how long it will take me to give it another go.

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