Appropriately for the last offering from maverick Von Trier, a film about the end of the world, I felt that the end of my own world was nigh went I went to see it a couple of days ago, as I fell violently ill in the cinema, although I somehow managed to watch it until the end. No, I am not blaming Von Trier for my tribulations, although I would like to add my voice to those who have accused him of all the sins under the sun. No, I blame something I ate just before the screening, which disagreed with my body. So, I'll try to recount as much as possible as I remember.
Melancholia is a huge planet which is going to collide with Earth, and no one can do a thing about it.
Not least the two sisters who are the central characters of the film. Justine (a magnificent and award winning performance by Kirsten Dunst), a manic depressive young woman who actually works as a copy writer for an advertising agency (are all copy writers mentally ill, I wonder), and Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg, a performance not much different from the one she gave in Antichrist), her strong headed sister who married money, in the shape of Michael (Alexander Skarsgård), react in unexpected ways when this planet of ours finally gets pulverized by the stray Melancholia.
In the actual beginning of the film we see the newly married Justine trying to get into the manorial home of her sister in a stretch limousine for her wedding reception and party, and failing to do so, setting the tone of Melancholia. The actual party is rather conventional in its depiction, as we see the usual family members falling into pieces, Charlotte Rampling and John Hurt being quite magnificent in their depiction of the (fallen) parents of the bride). Festen did it much better. The relationship between the two sisters have been quite strained for some time, the party acting as a kind of amplifier for it.
The second part of the film is seen with the eyes of Claire, as she receives a severely depressed Justine in their home, the big bad blue planet up there in the sky bearing closer and closer. The sensible couple, Claire and Michael, refuse to believe in the imminent demise of Earth, although Claire starts to get doubts about Michael's assurances that science has shown that Melancholia will pass close to our planet, but not collide with it. Yet the animal world starts to behave rather oddly, their horses becoming uncontrollable while snakes, frogs, and all kind of creatures, run frenetically around the place. They know, yet humans still attempt to cling to their hope. With the exception of Justine, the weaker of the sisters, the manic depressive of the two, who coldly accepts her destiny, whilst Claire falls to pieces as the end approaches.
I read Melancholia as a homage to our times, where the rogue planet doubles as the rogue global economic crisis, threatening to end our world as we know it. It is also an study on our reactions to impending catastrophe, the shift of roles from the strong to the apparently weaker between us, where solidity is often based on social conventions rather than in an inner strength of character.
I intensely disliked the very beginning of the film, a kind of pseudo National Geographic channel introduction to the forthcoming cosmic crash, a pillage of archive footing plus some (well done) CGI. For the record, I also disliked the same pretentious drivel in Malick's The Tree of Life. The roving camera work did not help with my poor condition, although the cinematography is quite haunting.