Director: Lars von Trier
Writer: Lars von Trier
Cinematographer: Manuel Alberto Claro
by Susan Bartley
Ever since Europa ('91) I’ve been getting more and more into Lars von Trier. Yet with the exception of Breaking the Waves ('96) and Dancer in the Dark ('00) nothing has come close, and even those films are distant seconds. Melancholia seemed like an interesting and ambitious story, as though a high-budgeted version of “Another Earth”. And while starting out strong, it quickly descends into pretension and unbearable melodrama.
Part One sets up an interesting premise where newlywed Justine's (Kirsten Dunst) after-party takes place at an extravagant mansion, where she deals with her colorful friends, family, and relatives. There’s the mom who insults her, the job she’s abandoning, she rejects her new husband for reasons we don't know and hope to discover (which we don't), and then she has sex with one of her former co-workers in the middle of a golf course.
In Part Two, Justine has grown dysfunctionally depressed. She can hardly bathe herself. Her sister, Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg), cares for her at the mansion while Claire’s husband John (Kiefer Sutherland) studies a planet which is approaching and will collide with Earth. He creates some silly device out of a piece of wood and a clothes hanger that demonstrates how the planet is getting closer. Still, life goes on. Claire is depressed. Justine is depressed. John is anxious. It all ends and I was disappointed off that nothing came of any of it.
The film feels as though it started as a great idea: an unstable woman who cheats on her husband during her wedding party, now has to build a life based on that deception. That idea then had nowhere good to go so von Trier decides to throw a planetary collision in to shake things up. In the end, I guess Justine finds salvation or comfort. Her depression is gone because she’s about to die and there’s no reason to keep on going. Okay… except that lesson could be derived minus any extravagant existential threat. I didn’t care. I didn’t feel any tension, either between the collision or between the characters. The stakes were minimal because I didn’t care about any of the characters. They were rich and privileged and closed off and it all felt so empty.
Melancholia wants to make itself seem like a far more cerebral movie than it is. If you strip away all of the fancy camera work and sci-fi elements then you’re left with a movie that takes you on an interesting journey for an hour and then leaves you hanging in frustration for the next. I can see von Trier telling me that this was the entire point. It’s how life is. Sure. I just didn’t need to spend two and a half hours watching a shallow exploration of it.
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