Wednesday, 5 October 2011


Year:  2011
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.

Kirsten Dunst is electric in Melancholia


  1. I had the weirdest experience when I saw Melancholia at a film festival last month. At least two people were removed from the theater during the first 20 minutes. We still have no idea what happened to them. My partner thought one of them might have had a seizure or something. It was really bizarre.

    Oh, and a group of teenager girls sitting in front of us left after 40 minutes. My theory is that they only came for Alexander Skarsgard and didn't know what they were getting themselves into. ;-)

    I really like your review and I can see your point about Lars von Trier heaping misery upon his female characters. But, on the other hand, he is someone who has consistently created amazingly complex and prominent roles for women so I don't know if I buy into the whole "he's a misogynist" hype. Melancholia isn't my favorite out of his movies, but I did love Charlotte Gainsbourg in it.

  2. When I saw it, there were about six people who left after the first half hour. I think some people must have gone along thinking "Oh, it's a science-fiction disaster movie with Kirsten Dunst, Alexander Skarsgard and Keifer Sutherland, it must be really action packed and exciting!"

    Yeah, Lars von Trier movies really do belong to the female characters, and they tend to be the most interesting and complex characters in the movies.

    Thanks for your comment!