DVD review | Melancholia – The end-of-the-world blues prove beautiful for Lars von Trier & Kirsten Dunst

Melancholia - Kirsten Dunst

A sublimely beautiful film about the end of the world, Lars von Trier’s Melancholia is nothing if not perverse. A strange mix of apocalyptic sci-fi and darkly comic social drama, the film is glacially slow in tempo but filled with stunning, gorgeously shot images. It will annoy as many viewers as it charms.

Von Trier’s heroine is equally exasperating. Kirsten Dunst’s depressive bride, Justine, throws a wedding-day wobbly to end them all, ruining the lavish reception that has been arranged by her sensible sister, Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg), in the splendid chateaux owned by her husband John (Kiefer Sutherland). Justine and Claire’s estranged parents, John Hurt’s doting, dotty father and Charlotte Rampling’s bitchy, brittle mother, are among the bystanders. Meanwhile, a rogue planet called Melancholia is drawing ever nearer, apparently on a collision course with Earth. Arch rationalist John is convinced Melancholia will miss. Justine, staying on at the chateaux after the wedding fiasco, is not so sure…

Following the film’s premiere, Von Trier got himself expelled from the Cannes Film Festival for making some willfully provocative off-the-cuff remarks about Hitler, but that didn’t stop his leading lady from winning the festival’s Best Actress award. The prize was well deserved. Dunst is dazzling: complex, troubled, dark, and the heart of a baffling but brilliant film.

Released on DVD & Blu-ray on Monday 23rd January by Artificial Eye.

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One Response to DVD review | Melancholia – The end-of-the-world blues prove beautiful for Lars von Trier & Kirsten Dunst

  1. Trish Taylor says:

    I’ve never like the films of Lars von Trier, with his Dogma 95 rules, wobbly camera work and weird stories. And then along came Melancholia. It seemed at first like a crazy quilt of episodes, lacking in backstories or motives. But it isn’t the kind of movie you can get out of your mind, and as I dwelt on it, those puzzling pieces began to fall neatly into place.

    The film opens with an extended sequence of an apocalyptic ending to existence as we know it. So we know already how this will all end. But the plot begins with an extremely elegant white, and over-long, limousine getting stuck in a tight curve on a gravel road. In it is a laughing bride and a somewhat on edge groom, just married, on their way to the reception. The bride, Justine, can take these minor impediments in her stride with great good humor.

    That scene cuts to their arrival at an enormous (18 hole), and very upscale golf resort, both the locale of the reception and the home of the bride’s sister Claire and her wealthy husband. Justine is greeted by Claire with a gentle scolding for being two hours late to the reception- as though she were to blame for having had to walk, barefoot, from the point where the limo got stuck. From this point Justine is faced with an unending list of complaints against her and demands upon her. Her brother-in-law on her late arrival offers the first of several remarks regarding how much he has spent on the festivities.

    But Justine disregards all and heads for the stables where she is sure to find someone she loves and who loves her: Abraham, her beloved horse. When she comments that she is the only one who can ride him, the brother-in-law in an aside says ” That’s not exactly true.”

    A long lists of assaults ensues. She is corrected for passing the dinner meat tray in the wrong direction. Her employer, Jack (Stellan Skarsgard), in lieu of a toast to the bride and groom, asks her for the tagline (advertising slogan) he has been waiting for. Her father, John Hurt, insults Justine’s mother rather than raise a toast. This arouses her mother (Charlotte Rampling) to speak, or rather to denounce all marriages. Justine is visibly upset and her sister calls her into another room to admonish her not to make a scene, which Justine sweetly agrees to. But the sense is of oppression, and it is not a surprise when Justine walks out into the night and takes off in a golf cart.

    She returns, smiling and composed, kisses the groom, and he rises to make a speech. He can’t think of anything to say other than that he loves Justine and “never dreamed that he would have such a gorgeous wife.” In the midst of the dancing, her nephew Leo, who was the happiest of all to see her, grows tired and Justine asks if she could put him to bed. Their bond is obvious. Her depression has set in, and while the groom waits to cut the cake, she undresses and takes a bath. Justine does reappear,
    the Wedding Planner announces sotto voce that she has ruined “his” wedding and he will refuse to look at her from that point on, and the cake is cut.

    But there is more. Brother-in-law is very angry and finds an opportunity to tell Justine that she “had better be goddam happy. Do you know how much this has cost me?…An arm and a leg.” It is one assault after another, some mild, some rude and extreme. In one scene Justine changes the books open to abstract patterns to books with paintings of human existence, including the Bruegel that appeared in the prologue.

    Justine cannot get her father to talk with her, her husband Michael is a shallow bore who tells her he has signed the deed without her prior knowledge on the property where he intends they will spend the rest of their lives. Justine can’t interest Michael in just talking or listening. He wants only to bed her.

    So, Justine leaves, goes outdoors and finds Tim, her employer’s nephew and new hire, who is threatened with firing if he doesn’t find out Justine’s tagline. She makes love to him in a sand trap, out of pity, as he is subjected to the same power plays as she from her employer, his uncle. And when Jack, her boss, next appears, he announces that Tim has been fired for failing to get the tagline out of her. Justine breaks at this point and tells Jack off in no uncertain terms, which loses her her job. And Michael leaves; the marriage he wanted is over.

    Justine and Claire go off the morning following the wedding for a ride, Justine on her favorite horse Abraham, they cantor freely until they reach a bridge at which Abraham balks. Justine by that time has been under such pressure from the forces around her that she breaks. Her darling Abraham, the one creature who has always understood and loved her, refuses to go where she wants to go, into the world her sister so easily transverses, of denial and pretended safety. And she beats him. It is an ugly scene; a woman losing her hold on sanity, on control. It is the loss more than of a marriage; it is the loss of all hope. These are the things in life to be mourned. This is the end of her world. The takeover of the meaningless and superficial.

    At this point the film divides and the focus shifts seismically to Claire.

    The immense symbolism of the film: something threatens the entire planet and the reactions of different types of personalities to that threat. The threat that comes immediately to mind is global warming, but it could be nuclear devastation or a plague or chemical warfare or even an asteroid. Justine has been called a depressive. I would call her the realist. Her darling sister lives in a lovely cocoon, and is terrified as one who has much to lose would be, a fear Justine does not/cannot share. John, her husband, who scolded her for securing poison to escape the end that is gradually becoming more visible to the rest of everyone, is, at the last, the one who steals the poison pills and kills himself. The ultimate avoidance of reality. While Justine becomes ever more calm and able to deal, and to comfort her nephew.

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