When Lars von Trier isn’t busy being controversial, he’s making films. His 2011 film Melancholia offers a modern-day take on the end of the world that doesn’t involve aliens, dystopia or rocket-ships. But buckle your seat belts. Melancholia is lengthy, depressing and sparse. It’s going to be a long ride; prepare yourself.
After a lengthy introduction with clips that don’t so much foreshadow as much as they blatantly show the end of the world set to Richard Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde score, the film gets under way. In the first half of the movie, Justine (portrayed by Kirsten Dunst) and Michael (Alexander Skarsgård) arrive late to their wedding reception only to be scolded by the bride’s sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and her husband John (Kiefer Sutherland). The wedding reception turns into a mess. Justine fails to stay focused on her “special day” and instead falls into depression. In the second half of the film, Justine is crippled by her illness and taken in by her sister. Simultaneously, Claire and her family prepare for the impending appearance of Melancholia, a planet who is on track to pass near Earth.
What Melancholia has is visual beauty: moody, breathtaking and gloomy. The shaky camera work actually adds a kind of intimacy to the film where it might otherwise just be static but stunning to the eye. What Melancholia needs, however, is a clear path to tell the story it wants to tell. The film leaves too much up to the viewer to decipher and understand. There are just too many unanswered questions. At over two hours long and not much action, the patience that is asked of the viewer might be pushing it a bit too far.