According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary the word Melancholia is a noun that means “a mental condition and especially a manic-depressive condition characterized by extreme depression, bodily complaints, and often hallucinations and delusions.” So, just by the name, we know the film is not going to be an uplifting film.
Melancholia, written and directed by Lars von Trier, is a film about two sisters. Justine (Kirsten Dunst) is the bride at a lavish affair paid for by her brother-in-law John (Kiefer Sutherland) and it becomes increasingly clear that Justine is not a happy bride. She becomes disengaged and is prodded on by her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) to put on a happy face and not embarrass the family. Her own parents (John Hurt and Charlotte Rampling), divorced long ago, are embarrassment enough. Michael (Alexander Skarsgård) is kind, sweet and a little bit dim when it comes to his bride. And it becomes very clear that Justine is not just a difficult bride, but she is experiencing a major depressive episode. Michael finally leaves without Justine as she quickly declines to the point that Claire must care for her.
Claire’s life is completely different than that of Justine’s. She is married to a successful yet sometimes patronizing husband and they have a sweet little boy named Leo (Cameron Spurr). Claire finds day to day life enjoyable and comfortable, but she is obsessed by an amazing astronomical event. Melancholia is a planet that has been hiding on the far side of the sun. It is stunningly lovely and appears similar to earth. Melancholia is moving and is headed right towards Earth. John finds splendor in this one in a lifetime event and intends on celebrating. But deep down John knows that this could quite be the end to everything.
Melancholia is one of the most visually stunning films I have seen all year. The setting is at a lavish country estate and gold course. The combination of art direction and special effects makes this film unique. But as the film’s beauty is mesmerizing the story and dialogue are slow, cumbersome and depressing in itself. With the end of time looming for all these characters, I just wanted Melancholia to smash into earth so the dreadful story would be over. Sure, I guess I would be depressed too if all of life was about to disappear forever. But I really don’t want to pay money and spend my time watching a film that is nothing but a downer and is dreadfully too long.
Kirsten Dunst won the Best Actress award at Cannes Film Festival earlier this year for her role in this film, but I don’t think her award here will translate into an Oscar Nomination. She may get some acknowledgement at The Golden Globes as they often recognize less traditional performances. This film itself should be recognized for its dazzling art direction with a nomination, but is doubtful to win since the film itself is not cohesive.
If you really a big fan of art features of film, I say it is worth it to see it for the visual beauty of the film that will never translate as well for the small screen. But if you want a film that is more than merely beautiful, I would skip it entirely.
For Oscar buffs, here is my take:
Most likely nominations:
Best Art Direction (if nominated, most likely to loose if in competition with War Horse.)
Outside Chance for Nomination:
Best Actress – Kirsten Dunst
Melancholia is rated R for some graphic nudity,sexual content and language and has a runtime of 2 hour and 16 minutes.
TAKE A MOMENT TO WATCH THE TRAILER AND VIEW THE SLIDESHOW FROM THE FILM AT THE LEFT OF THIS ARTICLE.
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-Kay Shackleton is a film historian with special focus on Silent Films, see her work on SilentHollywood.com