Melancholia

20 Apr

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Melancholia Definition:  A mental condition and especially a manic-depressive condition characterized by extreme depression, bodily complaints, and often hallucinations and delusions.

Melancholia Cast: Kirsten Dunst,Charlotte Gainsbourg,and Keifer Sutherland.

Written and Directed by: Lars Von Trier

Review: The film is divided into two chapters: Chapter 1: Justine and Chapter 2: Claire the names of two sisters the story is centered around. The story begins unfolding as a series of visual paintings in slow motion as we see the main characters for the first time. We also get a view of  deep space as a rogue planet on a collision course with Earth slowly makes it way toward our world. The images include a close-up of Justine as dying birds slowly drop from the sky, Claire running on a green field ( her estate’s golf course) clutching her son, a horse slowly dropping to the ground and ultimately the two planets colliding with Earth getting destroyed by the rogue. The images are haunting but not detailed like many Hollywood Armageddon films that show buildings falling down, people screaming etc. The images are thought-provoking and eerie and as the title suggests a feeling of melancholia.

Chapter 1: Justine played brilliantly by Kirsten Dunst, centers around her wedding at her sister Claire’s estate. It becomes obvious that Justine’s family is dysfunctional, distant and ill at ease with each other. Charlotte Rampling plays Gaby their mother an unloving, distant, bitter and uncaring woman who doesn’t believe in love, marriage rituals or being a real mother to her children. John Hurt plays their father and comes across as someone who would rather drink and party rather than be there emotionally for Justine even tho she really needs to connect with him. As the evening progresses we find out that Justine suffers from depression and disillusionment as she continually disappears from her own reception party. Justine’s life is slowly falling apart as she pushes aside her husband’s advances, tells off her boss as he keeps pressing her for a tag line for an ad campaign, she writes copy for her boss’ ad agency and she has sex with a random guy in the sand trap of her brother-in-law’s estate. By the end of the wedding her husband walks out never to return. Justine keeps looking up into the sky following a red star that has caught her eye. Her brother-in-law John an amateur astronomer assures her that the star is Antares and is surprised that she can see it with the naked eye. The next day she goes horseback riding with her sister and notices Antares has disappeared. Chapter 1: clearly focuses on the melancholia of family relationships and of Justine’s sixth sense about the world around her. She sees and feels things others do not. This is brilliant psychological drama made more eerie by the fact that everything is about to end.

Chapter 2: Claire centers around Justine’s sister and her relationship with her husband, son and sister. Justine now has clinical depression and comes to stay with Claire and her family. We also find out the red star that has disappeared is in fact a rogue planet named appropriately Melancholia and is headed for Earth. John insists that it only going to be a fly-by and will not come close enough to hit even as he hides the truth from Claire. All the action and motivations of the characters become trivial to the events that are playing out in the skies above.  As Claire starts to become unraveled and depressed at the thought of dying Justine loses her depression and accepts the inevitable and becomes the strong one through her acceptance of that which can not be changed.

The film’s strength lies in the metaphor of the approaching Melancholia and the artistry of the visuals to make it’s point about family ties and family structure under extreme pressure. Kirsten Dunce won the best actress award from the Film Festival at Cannes and she deserved it for the film showcases how good an actress she is. The film was promoted as a beautiful film about the end of the world, it’s focus was on relationships not the sci-fi, making it thought provoking and intelligent.

Recommended: 

Not for small children. Intense imagery and themes.

The film is available on DVD, Redbox, on Demand and Netflix.

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