Film Review: Melancholia (2011)

Melancholia is amazingly beautiful in look and uncomfortably deep in tone and allegory. It's a visual spectacle and proves to be my favorite Lars von Trier film to date. the film engaging?

If you 've seen his last film, Antichrist, then you'll know that von Trier is a film maker that lives in a world of allegorical cinematography. He spends most of his films telling his stories through visual stimulation and glorious camera work. Personally, I didn't enjoy Antichrist. Though visually striking, I felt that film to be a conceptual bore. Perhaps it was just my expectations going into that film that ruined the initial experience for me as I heard so many strong things about it. I may revisit that film down the road under a more refined appreciation for von Trier's work due to my admiration of Melancholia. I doubt it...but, you never know.

If Antichrist was von Trier's attempt at horror (hah!)...then, this film is his Sci-Fi offering. I realize that Melancholia isn't the usual type of film we review here at Film Deviant but, while we do try our hardest to deviate from the norm we also know a special film when we see one. Melancholia is a special film. It won't really "change everything" as the tag line suggests, but it will make you feel something...and most films don't do that anymore. Especially films having to do with the end of this one does.

Melancholia opens with a series of dream-like sequences that preface what we are in store for at our eventual end. It all seems so confusingly beautiful at first until you realize that you are about to watch a story regarding the end of the world. Then, it turns from beautiful to tragic in an eye blink. We are then swooped down to the first part of this film entitled "Justine". An introduction to our main character named Justine, oddly enough, who is on her way to her wedding with her soon to be husband played unexceptionally by Alexander SkarsgĂ„rd. Justine is played by the frustrating Kirsten Dunst. I say frustrating because ever since I first saw her in Interview With a Vampire I always thought she would blossom into a really great actress...only to be disappointed by her many roles and performances. She turned from inspired to annoying quickly in the Spiderman movies and never seemed to find her groove.

Until Melancholia. She is amazing in this film and proves to really display a keen sense of intuitive acting that redefines her as an actress. It's one of those career changing moments in an actor's career that really shows what they've been capable of all along. Much like Natalie Portman in the recent Black Swan...and we all know she won the Oscar for that one. I wouldn't be surprised if Dunst followed the same fate with her performance here. Actually...there's no shortage of great performances in the film. Hell...even John Hurt and Udo Kier show up to the party.

The film is split into two halves. The first half takes place at the castle-like mansion of her sister and brother-in-law played respectively by Charlotte Gainsbourg (von Trier regular) and Jack fucking Bauer himself, Kiefer Sutherland. Both actors show an impressive restraint in their roles and mostly serve as accompaniments to Justine's main arc...Claire (Gainsbourg) serving as the contrast. They are hosting the lavish wedding of Justine and Michael and it is the perfect setting for such an event. Soon everything turns sour, though,  and we are met with Justine's worsening state of depression. In fact, this is the main theme of the film. It's been said that von Trier was in a long depressive condition before making this film and he pulled his own personal experiences into the film.

Here's where I go back to my initial question: Is Melancholia intriguing?

Well that all depends on what you are willing to commit to.

Because most of the film is spent examining Justine's deteriorating state, especially in the second part of the film entitled "Claire", I can understand why many viewers would have trouble sitting through such a depressing film. If you are looking for more extravagant apocalyptic visuals...this is not the film for you. Melancholia is much more personal and serene. While it teeters on the edge of anesthetic cinema at times, it is mostly a film to be felt instead of plainly viewed.

The themes are pretty obvious in the film. The contrast of depression and the end of the world. That's pretty much it. However, it is how von Trier brings those elements onto the screen that creates the atmospheric beauty of it all. I absolutely loved Danny Boyle's Sunshine and that film left me feeling tragically optimistic. I felt the same thing with this Melancholia. Specifically when given the comparisons of human emotions throughout the film as well as the ultimate acceptance of our fate.

Melancholia is not for everyone...and it is not the sort of thing I would recommend to the avid genre enthusiast. However, if you are in the mood for something that will truly leave you with more depth and beauty than most films that have seen the light of a projector this year then, Melancholia is worth the commitment. Lars von Trier at his best. Not to mention that he finally got Kirsten Dunst to display her true gift for well as her other gifts.

4 out of 5

Thanks for reading,