Lars von Trier’s Melancholia is a hauntingly beautiful portrayal of psychological catastrophes that change the course of human lives, which are on the brink of extinction. Carefully selected music, camera shots and more than believable acting performance are attributes making it one of the best movies in 2011.
The catastrophes that befall the young and unfortunate heroine Justine, played wonderfully by Kirsten Dunst, have little to do with the apocalypse, which she welcomes as release from a world wrought with evil. The first part of the movie, entitled “Justine,” signals events that mar her seeming happiness, such as her wedding party at an ocean resort, owned and financed by her brother in law, and all the “small” accidents that seem to befall her, finally ending in her husband leaving her. The second part, “Claire,” is equally dysfunctional in its psychological propriety, but has more outlines of a conventional apocalypse movie.
Interestingly enough, Trier refused rehearsals yet again, remaining true to his original style, which was to allow spontaneity and personal connection of actors with their characters, simultaneously giving instructions between the takes. The exterior, filmed around Tjoloholm Castle, gives the movie its poignant aesthetics, evocative of the clash between reality and fantasy. In addition, hand-held camera work added to the striking imagery and emotional richness of the movie.
Trier managed to successfully incorporate literary and musical references, in order to buttress the plight of his protagonist. For instance, the soundtrack boasts the prelude to Wagner’s opera “Tristan and Isolde,” for which Wagner himself said that it exemplifies the idea that death is the only escape from a wretched existence. In addition, Justine is named after De Sade’s own protagonist from his novel Justine, denoting a protagonist who overcomes numerous obstacles, only to be struck down by lightning at the very end, an idea hinted at by the fact that at one point in the movie, Trier’s Justine is producing lightning bolts from the tips of her fingers.
Thus, Melancholia, the planet, is doomed to crash into Earth, putting a halt to all life as they know it. The characters all react differently to the impending doom, with only the prophetic Justine feeling a sense of peace, knowing that soon it will all be over.
Melancholia. Dir. Lars von Trier. Perf. Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Kiefer Sutherland. Film i Väst. 2011. Film.