Maybe it’s because I just finished the Plague, but Melancholia is my new favorite rainy-weather movie. It’s one of those movies that focuses so sharply on its characters that it shies away from hype and even solves that nagging crappy-action-film trend of “I know it’s bad, but I want to see how it ends…” Melancholia let’s the viewer walk into the movie with the plot already wrapped up, so you basically have to be patient and watch how the characters react. And what are they reacting to? Death. Everyone in this movies dies. It’s not a surprise, they tell you in the first 6 minutes of the film in an overture that covers the major themes of the movie. Everyone dies at the end when a giant rogue planet, Melancholia, crashes into earth, erasing all of its inhabitants’ existence.
Wait, it get’s more depressing than that. The movie follows Justine, an a manic depressive Kirsten Dunst, who falls in and out of a comatose state of, well, melancholic bouts. Lars Von Trier, the director, based her off of his own depression. He stated that “My analyst told me that melancholiacs will usually be more level-headed than ordinary people in a disastrous situation, partly because they can say: ‘What did I tell you?’ but also because they have nothing to lose.” This is evident in the movie when (though it is quite evident throughout) Kirsten Dunst explains with a calm, almost cruelly neutral tone, that “life is only on Earth, and not for long.” As the only reliable source of info in the movie, this comes off as completely terrifying. You literally believe her that there is no life anywhere else in the universe. It is only located on earth, and a planet is coming to end it.
Yep, it’s one of those movies: starts depressing, ends depressing. But there’s so much to love about this movie, and even more when you re-watch it. Everything people say, from the little annoying child who keeps saying “when can we play in the cave?” to Justine’s constant metaphoric ramblings becomes more and more telling of the what’s going on in the movie. The movie is amazingly tight when it comes to dialogue, and even more so when it comes to cinematography. Everything looks incredible, and you can tell that most of the budget went into making the skies look bright and crisp, taking the time to get the best shot of a horse trotting by, and generally every action the characters make in the movie. It is an incredibly beautiful film.
As I’ve mentioned, you don’t watch this movie for a plot, you watch it to see how these characters react to the knowledge that they, like all of us, will die. Not in 50 years in a bed surrounded by family, but soon. Tomorrow. And you can see the giant blue planet hurtling towards, and watch as it takes up more and more of our night sky. You and everything you love will come to an end. Depressing, right? Watching how all the characters come to deal with this (or don’t) makes the entire experience worthwhile. Claire, Justine’s sister, is in wide-eyed disbelief the entire movie, while her husband, Michael, is in complete denial. Claire is sort of the straight man in this movie, as Justine is pretty much unrepeatable. She reacts pretty much how you and I would react to our doom. Let’s get some wine, and huddle together, and maybe play classical music. Justine mocks her at this point, and basically mocks your own instincts. What would you do in this scenario?
So as much as I enjoy watching Melancholia, there are a few issues. First, none of the science makes any sense. It’s almost as if they didn’t science the film at all! The way in which the super planet orbits the Earth is… interesting. They call it the dance of death, but I’m not so sure that a structure that size would fall into the orbit of something a fraction it’s size. I think if Melancholia came near Earth, it would just suck Earth out of its orbit and send it hurling through space. We’d all die anyway, but it would be much slower. Also, and though the acting is great, the casting choice was interesting. Kirsten Dunst is one of the only actors who doesn’t use a British accent. Seriously, her sister, parents, and pretty much everyone else is British. Michael, her sister’s husband, and their kid also have American accents, but that can easily be explained away. How can a single member of a family have a different accent? It’s kind of annoying, but since they are all such excellent actors (minus the kid), you barely notice.
I would highly recommend this movie. It’s not something you take a date to or something you bring to a party, but it is definitely worth your time. I’d watch it alone ( or with a loved one) at night when the clouds are growling, and you’re not in a particularly good mood. And with a nice bottle of Beaujolais. This is a great movie to quaff a bottle of your favorite red or white, and just think for a while. Melancholia is as beautiful as it is tremendous, but I would not call it a crowd pleaser, so be careful who you watch it with. I’ve seen it 3-4 times already, and I’m still not done re-watching it. Good luck, and don’t forget the wine.
(The trailer for this movie sucks, so here’s the overture. This plays at the beginning of the film and lets you preview the major themes of what’s coming. The movie has actual acting and a plot, this is just the opening sequence.)