Lars von Trier's sci-fi drama features star turns from Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg
Melancholia is like the inversion of TS Elliot’s much quoted dictum. Is this how the world will end? With a bang not a whimper. Lars Von Trier’s curious, enigmatic and deterministic film seeks to equate the black dog of depression with an apocalypse brought on by the collision of two planets. Divided into two parts which are preceded by a stunning tableau of stills of events to come, Melancholia begins with the disastrous wedding of clinically depressed Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Michael (Alexander Skarsgård) at her anxious sister Claire’s country pile. In the second part of the film, sometime after the wedding has been called off, Justine returns to stay and recuperate with Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and her husband John (Keifer Sutherland) – an amateur astrologist. As Claire nurses Justine it becomes clear that a large rogue planet is to pass very close to Earth in a matter of days. As Claire’s anxiety escalates, Justine’s abates.
Von Trier’s unique take on the apocalypse thriller has the logic (or illogic) of a nightmare. Ideas of familial dysfunction, the obscenity of weddings, mental illness as an American institution and the insidiousness of advertising folk are broached then abandoned. All too obviously inspired by August Strindberg’s A Dream Play (‘Everything can happen, everything is possible and likely’), Von Trier’s film is almost certainly more than the sum of its parts.
Kirsten Dunst gives a career best turn as the deeply troubled Justine, while, as in his last film Anti-Christ, Charlotte Gainsbourg is the key to guiding the viewer to the final reveal. Kiefer Sutherland is fantastic as pragmatist John and John Hurt, Charlotte Rampling, Stellan Skarsgård and even the mighty Udo Kier as assorted wedding guests and staff brings a lot of class to proceedings. It is, however, the use of Richard Wagner’s overture from Tristan and Isolde that really compounds Von Trier’s tale of astrophysics and the human psyche. Like the Von Trier’s metaphors and meanderings, the vulgarity of Wagner’s score is remarkable, but its power is undeniable.
Selected release from Fri 30 Sep.