Melancholia: A Tale of Two Sisters… and the end of the world.

Spoiler: Melancholia begins with the end of the world. The sequence has no dialogue. Instead, it’s a slow motion montage scored with classical music, and it’s beautiful. The sequence ends with a giant blue planet (that’s been hidden behind the sun) crashing into earth. Is this prologue for everyone? I don’t think so. When the title card popped up I felt an anxiousness wash over the crowd I viewed the film with. I felt the same anxiousness during a screening of Drive. Something about a story told without dialogue gets under some people’s skin. After the prologue the film is told in two chapters. Each part concentrates of one of two sisters, played by Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg. In my opinion the two chapters feels like two separate movies.

The first chapter (or movie), Justine, concentrates on Kirsten Dunst during her wedding party. This part of the film reminded me a lot of The Celebration (one of the most famous dogme 95 films), directed by Thomas Vinterberg, but I don’t think it’s done as well. The party is awkward because there’s so much family history brimming under the surface and different people want different things out of the party. This part of the film is actually kind of funny (not going to reveal to funny parts). All of this happens while Dunst’s severe depression prevents her from enjoying the expensive party her brother and law has paid for. She becomes so overwhelmed by her depression her husband leaves at the end of the night. The depiction of depression was subtle and realistic and Dunst’s acting is superb. It’s refreshing to see consistent, restrained acting through out without an “intense” performance during a scene. Unfortunately, these are the kinds of scenes that win awards. All of this is great, but for some reason I didn’t fully connect with this portion of the film, but this is a very subjective feeling. I’ve never dealt with depression myself. I have the feeling people who have will find this first chapter devastating.  (First chapter grade: B-)

The second chapter of Melancholia is so brilliant. The chapter deals with Claire and the science fiction portion of the film. Claire is scared the planet might hit earth. Meanwhile, her husband is excited for the “fly-bye” because, “It’s going to be the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen.” One aspect of the science fiction that I loved (and the film in general) was there was almost no expository dialogue. Any information given about the planet was entirely organic. We didn’t have news broadcasts telling us everything or 5 minute explanations. We get little bits and pieces from characters as the film proceeds. I found this incredibly refreshing and very well done. It was also very interesting to see how different people dealt with the potential destruction of the world. Maybe the most interesting emotion was denial. Claire’s husband denied the fact that the planets would collide while assuring their son everything would be fine. How would you react if you thought the world was going to end? Would you try to live your final days to the fullest? Or would you let the fear consume you? Melancholia forces us to confront our fear of death because we know the destruction of earth, like life is inevitable. Even though we know the planets are going to collide, the moment the characters realize it doesn’t lose any of it’s power. The end of the film is incredible emotional. All the different ways the characters react when they know it’s end of the world is heartbreaking. Melancholia is the only narrative film so far this year that brought me to the verge of tears. Everything leads to the brilliant final shot, where some characters have accepted their fate, together (footnote 1). (Second chapter grade: A+)

Total grade: A-

Footnote 1: There have been some amazing final shots this year. The end of Melancholia, Take Shelter, and Martha Marcy May Marlene have all been brilliant. On the same tier as the end of The Wrestler and Black Swan. I love when a film ends with the climax.


About Sean Temple

Filmmaker, Progressive, Feminist, Emerson MFA Student, Director of HUNT. I use film to critique our society and reveal the struggles real people deal with every day. View all posts by Sean Temple

One response to “Melancholia: A Tale of Two Sisters… and the end of the world.

  • CMrok93

    Dunst was very good in this role but her character was just a little mopey for my liking. However, von Trier keeps his artistic vision in-tact and although there are moments of boredom, it still all comes together so well in the last 40 minutes. Great review. Check out my review when you get the chance.

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