Advertised as a cerebral science fiction story, Melancholia presents the story of two women’s reactions to the end of the world. Now, I personally wouldn’t call this sci-fi in the least, since the only science fiction components act as little more than a backdrop to do a character experiment. Rather, this is actually a surrealist expression and study of two different personalities.
If Lars von Trier’s “Anti-Christ” was a cinematic portrayal of anxiety and panic attacks veiled behind a horror movie, then it was only a rough draft for “Melancholia,” a portrayal of severe depression displayed through a science fiction movie. The backdrop follows Justine, a young bride on her wedding day who suffers from depression, and Claire, her sister who put it all together while trying to understand and deal with her sister. The wedding happens on the eve of a planet by the name of “Melancholia,” coming to a collision course with the Earth.
But this is not a story about a catastrophic event. The event named in the film is essentially provided a vessel for the characters to react to. It is the personification of the feeling of depression, a literally crushing weight coming towards you.
The film itself is a masterful piece of imagery and direction. Kirsten Dunst gives the performance of a lifetime playing a woman hiding behind a smile, someone that has no reason to be anything but happy but, nevertheless, is shattered behind her eyes. Eventually, depression becomes acceptance and understanding, a natural relationship with a world on the verge of doom, a world that is finally becoming in tune with Dunst’s character’s entire life.
And this is really the beauty of the film. It provides the most stunning imagery, a beauty to look at, and simultaneously gives us a sense of sadness, tension, desperation, and serenity unlike any other film of recent memory.
I will be watching this one repeatedly I’m sure, and I can’t wait for Lars von Trier’s next project. Melancholia surpassed Anti-Christ by leaps and bounds. Where Anti-Christ gave us a visceral reaction due to horrific imagery, Melancholia knew exactly how to pull the right strings to truly understand, not the character’s thoughts, but the character’s actual emotions. I’d rate this as a near flawless film, technically and artistically.