Inspired by director Lars von Trier’s personal experience with depression, Melancholia is a contemporary apocalyptic drama revolved around sisters Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) during their final days on Earth.
Melancholia’s opening is stunning, with a seven minute sequence involving the main characters mid apocalyptic state. Scenes of birds falling from the sky, characters sinking into the ground, and solar images of the collision mark the resolution of Melancholia before the narrative has begun. Von Tier’s approach allows the audience to focus on the characters reaction leading up to the event, rather than to become distracted by the final outcome.
The film is then split into to halves. The first, titled Justine, opens on the eve of her wedding day, with a post-wedding scene in the back of a limousine. Justine and Michael (Alexander Skarsgård) are seen as a typical newly wed couple, full of smiles and laughter. As the scene plays out this comedic introduction turns into a false sense of security, with Melancholia turning into the emotional definition of von Trier’s title.
From here Justine’s seemingly perfect life comes to an end, and her experience with depression start to shadow what was supposed to be the happiest day of her live. During this act, the main characters are introduced in typical movie-making form, but it is immediately obvious they are anything but close-knit.
The second half, titled Claire, sets the pace and gives Melancholia a purpose. Unlike Justine’s chapter, the apocalyptic threat is much stronger, and could easily be used as a stand alone short to portray von Trier’s adaptation of reality. Reviewing the film’s entirety, the first half seems pointless, and could easily be mistaken for an entirely different film. Melancholiais outstanding as it stands, however would have earned far more credit if Justine’s chapter was anything like Claire’s.
The film premièred at the 64th Cannes Film Festival earlier this year to critic acclaim, with Kirsten Dunst receiving the award for Best Actress. Since then Melancholia has received worldwide acclaim, with Danish national newspaper Berlinkgske describing the film as “unforgettable”.
There is something peculiar about this film, that touches on two subjects today’s society shy away from. Watching a film surrounding depression and death is never going to be an easy viewing, but the beauty Melancholia holds throughout is extraordinary and makes the time spent viewing the lives of two contrasting sisters worth every minute.