Review: Melacholia

Birds fall from the sky, a horse collapses to the ground dying, sparks fly from Kirsten Dunst’s fingers, and we see the destruction of Earth by the looming giant blue planet Melancholia. All this in super slo-mo to a Wagnerian score. It’s beautiful and bleak. And all in the first ten minutes.

Melancholia is, of course, a Lars Von Trier film, so you don’t go into it expecting a magical journey of sunshiney smiles. What follows is the tale of two sisters, Justine (Kirsten Dunst) Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg), as their lives fall apart, one due to an overwhelming depression, the other because of the imminent destruction of Earth. The film, split into two halves, begins at the wedding reception of Justine. Apparently happily married to a very sweet and good-matured man, Michael (Alexander Skarsgård), it doesn’t take too long for (what should be) Justine’s happiest day to unravel. Awkward pronouncements by family and friends sour the atmosphere, before Justine’s depression leads to a series of self-destructive actions.

The second half of the film focuses on Claire, as she struggles to care for a near-catatonic Justine, and the threat of newly discovered planet, Melancholia, as it orbit brings it perilously close to Earth. Her husband, John (Kiefer Sutherland), is a pompously rational man who maintains there’s nothing to fear while whispering and constantly looking into telescopes. Justine, on the other hand, seems to know the end is nigh and is accepting of the fate of the planet. Claire, caught between the two, slowly tears herself apart.

Von Trier has certainly moved on since Dogme 95 days. Melancholia, the giant blue planet, looms ominously, much like the condition after which it is named, and is wonderfully and inspiringly shot. The opening sequence I mentioned at the start of the review will be copied a million times, I’m sure. And this coupled with Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde as the score, the film is almost operatic. I also found Kirsten Dunst’s performance to be one of her best. That smile she once gave Peter in the Spider-Man films now hiding a world of sadness. Her Justine is beautiful but broken.

But these moments are out-weighed by clunky unrealistic dialogue and some very average acting. The cast appear to be very aware they’re in a Lars Von Trier film, “He appreciates actors and acting so I will act like I’ve never acted before!”. What we end up with is John Hurt gadding about, Kiefer Sutherland grumbling stiltedly while occasionally pointing at the nearing doom planet, and Stellan Skarsgård chewing his way through every scene as an arsehole of an ad exec who turns up at the wedding reception and tries to force Justine to come up with a new tagline for a campaign. This self-conciousness did nothing for my suspension of disbelief, and I found it all a little ridiculous.

I have no problem with the bleakness, sometimes it’s good to have your soul broken, but I needed something to relate to. One emotional connection. There were none. I simply ended up being bored by it all.

I will always be thankful for people like Lars Von Trier out there, whipping up the hornets’ nest, and making films like these. Lord knows, in the cookie-cutter cineplexes we need something different, but I never thought I would find the end of the world to be so dull.

Melancholia is out on Blu-Ray and DVD now.

More Reviews:

Coriolanus

Troll Hunter

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2011)

Captain America: The First Avenger

Tron

The Girl With Dragon Tattoo (2009)

Hackers

WarGames

Super 8

The Parallax View

Cowboys And Aliens

Swamp Thing

X-Men First Class

The Human Centipede

Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen

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