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Melancholia (2011)

“I smile, and I smile, and I smile.”

Cast: Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Kiefer Sutherland

Thanks to a massive planet called Melancholia soaring through space and heading for Earth, the end of the world is near and there’s nowhere to hide.

Melancholia debuted at the Cannes Film Festival just as The Tree of Life did. Both tackling issues about the universe and the course of human nature, it’s exciting to see how each film approached the subject.

Melancholia is split into two halves, the first being ‘Justine’. Primarily focused on the wedding reception of newlyweds Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Michael (Alexander Skarsgård), we are introduced to Justine’s dysfunctional family. Filmed in a documentary-like way by a hand held camera, we watch as this just-married couple appears to be tearing at the seams already. As Justine’s estranged parents openly argue in front of the guests, her disapproving mother (Charlotte Rampling) announces: ‘I wasn’t at the church – I don’t believe in marriage’. Far from the idyllic setting that a wedding reception would usually take, it appears this marriage was doomed from the get go. As Justine runs around the grounds becoming evermore depressed and desperate, there is no doubt she is an unstable girl with some deep setting issues (which normally makes for good film).

The second half of the film is labelled ‘Claire’. Occurring maybe a few weeks after Justine’s car crash of a wedding reception, this half centres around Justine’s dull and monotonous sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and her husband, John (Kiefer Sutherland). After the quick dissolution of her marriage, Justine moves in with Claire who insists she needs to be with family while Melancholia passes by Earth. However as time passes, the rogue planet appears to be closer to Earth than ever before, so we watch on as the end of the world becomes more of an imminent threat.

Melancholia is quite a depressing concept for a film but one that has a lot of potential to explore humanity, right down to our faith and hope in times of, literally, impending death. While I loved The Tree of Life, Melancholia feels like less of an achievement to me. Yes, some scenes are beautifully shot, but it’s so boring to watch. I expected a bit of excitement and a sense of frantic desperation but with such a boring cast – excluding Dunst who at times had me gripped – it was hard to stay interested for 2 and a half hours.

Though it has been praised for it’s artistic direction and sense of humanity, it didn’t feel new or evolutionary. The characters weren’t as fired up as I’d have been if this were to happen in real life, so how can we take this as a real depiction? No character’s reaction resembles that of a real person’s to news so huge like the end of the world, maybe perhaps Sutherland’s, but even that was underwhelming.

While I get it’s meant to be a beautiful, artistic depiction of the end of the world and on some level, a sense of realisation and acceptance that nothing else can be done, Melancholia was boring and uninspired. Lars von Trier rallied up more interest and questionable thoughts from me when he made those comments about Hitler in his press conference for Melancholia.

Star rating:   6.5/10

Directed by Lars von Trier.

Running time 136 minutes.