Melancholia: Enjoy It While It Lasts (2011)

Posted: June 2, 2012 in Drama, Sci-Fi

On the evening of her wedding, Justine and Michael arrive at their reception late. Although the guests are all celebrating the wonderful day, Justine seems to be off in the distance, periodically taking excursions to be off on her own. Regardless of how much Michael expresses his love for her, Justine remains distant and cold. Eventually, her off-putting attitude creates a rift with her boss and her husband, causing both of them to leave prematurely. Meanwhile, Claire slowly begins to exhibit her frustration for Justine’s sorrowful demeanor, but willingly takes her in after her failed attempt at marriage. Initially focused on taking care of her sister, Claire begins to become distracted by the oncoming doom-like aura of the news that a strange blue planet is hurling toward Earth. As the time comes closer, Justine appears to have calmed her depressive mood but has exhibited a sense of awareness for the oncoming events, while Claire dives deeper into panic at the unknown with the planet’s possible collision.

Starring: Kirsten Dunst (Justine), Charlotte Gainsbourg (Claire), Alexander Skarsgard (Michael), Brady Corbet (Tim), Cameron Spurr (Leo), Charlotte Rampling (Gaby), Kiefer Sutherland (John), Stellan Skarsgard (Jack), John Hurt (Dexter)

This 2-act film exhibits two very different sets of characters: a somewhat upbeat wedding party and a fearful family facing the unknown. Kirsten Dunst starts the first act as a bride who is unhappy with her choices and actually drags the event down with her melancholiness and abrasive sorrow. In the second act, she is much more depressive to start and then somewhat of a killjoy, even in her moments of clarity. Charlotte Gainsbourg appears to be more emotionless and rigid at the start, but Dunst’s sorrow and flakiness causes her to become more open with her emotions. In the second act, her fears become more apparent and she exhibits a growing insanity in her worry of the world’s end. Alexander Skarsgard appears to be a completely loving and devoted husband, but gets cast aside by Dunst’s cold attitude. Brady Corbet is somewhat of a stranger in the story but he provides a bit of conflict for Dunst’s marriage with Skarsgard to push the story forward. Charlotte Ramping and John Hurt serve as Dunst’s parents and express an opposite sense of appreciation for marriage and love. Also important to the story are Stellan Skarsgard (Jack) and Cameron Spurr (Leo).


Lars von Trier’s Melancholia is a multilayered story with a somewhat strange focus on the dreary and sorrowful. He starts the film off with an artistic display of images that seem to foreshadow the events the viewer will see as the film carries on to its conclusion, in some ways similar to Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life. Orchestrated throughout the film with a passionate but heavily emotional movement, the opening sequences clearly highlights the oncoming misery and tragedy that the characters will face. The first act at the wedding reception is interesting in its presentation. While much of the reception is shot to give a sense of ambiance and contrast between Justine and the rest of the guests, it devotes nearly no attention to the sci-fi element of the possible collision with the other planet. Instead, the focus is on disconnects of love between both Justine and Michael as well as Justine’s parents. Claire also takes a backseat to Justine until the transition into part two. When the focus shifts to Claire, the focus also spends more time with the sci-fi element, though first transitioning through Justine’s depression and Claire’s unwillingness to give up on her sister. Claire descent into a near madness state represents a similar fear that most people would face if they knew the world was coming to an end.


While the concept of this film was rather interesting, its presentation left much to be desired. The orchestrated scenes and the artistic sequence at the start made the tone of the movie stay in its deep dramatic roots, almost dragging the viewer down into a 135-minute state of depression with no sense of relief. Much of this was due to the Dunst’s character and her presentation of Justine’s troubles. She takes Justine’s character into such an unlikeable place that it also moves the film’s attempts at being artistically dramatic to a pompous place disconnected from any sense of reality. While Dunst’s depression and melancholy state is meant to be connected with her ability to foresee the fate of the world, she is so cold that she ruins the film. If one considers the quality of the film outside of the Dunst’s performance, there is more to be enjoyed from Claire’s transformation of inner strength to uncontrollable fear and her family relationships. The entire first act could be considered a throwaway, but the second act’s focus on Claire made for a much more quality abstract drama.

Melancholia may take a more human focus similar to Another Earth, but its execution of the story left much to be desired. It pushes the artistic and dramatic themes to too much of an extreme to be an overall enjoyable experience, even if it is a direct representation of its director.

Dan’s Rating: 2.0/5


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