Director: Lars von Trier
Screenplay: Lars von Trier
Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Alexander Skarsgard, Keifer Sutherland, Stellan Skarsgard, Charlotte Rampling, John Hurt, Udo Kier
Running Time: 135 minutes
Genre: Drama, science-fiction, apocalyptic
It's the end of the world as we know it in the latest laugh filled romp from controversial Danish director Lars von Trier. Justine (Dunst) and her new husband Michael (Alexander Skarsgard) turn up two hours late to their own wedding reception, held at the lavish country house owned by Justine's sister Claire (Gainsbourg) and her wealthy astronomer husband John (Sutherland). At the reception, Justine, who suffers from manic depression, alienates her friends, family and her employer with her increasingly erratic behaviour. In addition, a large rogue planet called Melancholia, which had been hidden behind the Sun is scheduled to pass by (or more likely to collide with) Earth in fve days time.
The film is told in two parts, the first, "Justine", deals with the disasterous wedding reception and plays like a savage dark comedy, while the second, "Claire", deals with the characters preparing for the approach of Melancholia and is an intense chamber drama. It's fair to say, that while the film belongs squarely in the field of apocalyptic science-fiction and the main plot of an object about to collide with and destroy the Earth has been done many times before, this is very far removed from the action-adventure thrills of conventional science-fiction cinema. This slow-moving, somber movie even pulls the rug out from the audience by denying us even the suspense of wondering whether or not the planet is going to collide with Earth. It opens with a series of surreally beautiful slow-motion images depicting Earth's destruction by Melancholia (von Trier said that he did not want the audience in suspense for the wrong reasons)
Lars von Trier is one of the most controversial directors working today and tends to strongly polarise his audience. In the press conference for Melancholia at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival he managed to alienate almost everyone by saying that he admired Hitler and the Nazis. However he later apologised and claimed that he didn't mean it and it was just a joke. Aside from his idiotic comments at the press conference, it's harder to ignore the fact that in Lars von Trier films the women, his lead characters are usually women, tend to have misery upon misery heaped upon them until they achieve some kind of transcendence at the end. However, he is a talented film-maker and this movie is probably the most stunning and visually impressive of his career. There is more than a hint here of the influence of the great Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky who did his own apocalypse film with The Sacrifice (1986).
The acting, as usual with von Trier films, is spectacular with Kirsten Dunst giving a career best perfomance as the unhappy Justine, a character who is never particularly likeable but is never entirely unsympathetic and she gets good support from Charlotte Gainsbourg as the stressed, but level-headed, Claire. Also the unrelenting misery is leavened by a streak of welcome dark humour.
Fans of slow and depressing science-fiction drama won't want to miss it.