I’m afraid to die.
It’s funny saying it aloud, especially considering I own a horror site where I talk about, and watch movies about death all day. Scratching the surface, Lars von Trier’s Melancholia is a straight up drama about two sisters drifting apart (as two planets drift closer). But on further observation, it truly is the story of how a group of people deals with the knowledge that they will probably be dead in a mere five days. To say this is a genre film would be a fallacy, but it’s hard to turn your back on a movie that will shred you to the core and literally crush your soul as much as Melancholia will.
I personally haven’t been this devastated by the end credits since Gaspar Noe’s 2009 Enter the Void and the 2008 documentary Dear Zachary. Is there anything scarier than the end of the world? Maybe…the end of you?
After a remarkable slow motion foreshadowing of the “grand” finale, the film opens with the title card “Justine”, who is played by Kirsten Dunst. The first act takes the audience on a handheld journey through Justine’s wedding night. It’s all smiles and toasts, kisses and hugs, until Justine’s mother (Charlotte Rambling) throws in a few awkward snaps about getting married. Things spiral downward as Dunst appears to be affected by her mother’s gloomy attitude. It all feels reminiscent of Wes Anderson’s dark comedy The Royal Tenenbaums. The air is thick with uncomfortable human interaction, and it becomes more and more apparent that “something” is wrong.
Lars von Trier puts his masterful screenwriting ability on display as the entire first act is a dance with the viewer, tricking them with each and every frame. Things begin to unfold when Justine has an incredibly dark conversation with her mother about “fear”, which to the naked eye appears to be about Justine’s fear of commitment. But the eyebrows will be raised when Justine’s new husband, Michael (played by Alexander Skarsgard), leaves the wedding with his parents. “What a odd wedding,” most will say…
Odd only on first viewing as it’s soon revealed that the planet Melancholia will either pass by, or crash directly into Earth in a mere five days. The second act leads up to this big reveal as the audience is physically assaulted with nearly 30 minutes of a deathly ill Justine, who is cared for by her overprotective sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg). But what’s really going on is that Justine has literally cracked and is paralyzed by fear. Von Trier’s brilliance is that he literally forces the audience to drudge through Justine’s metamorphosis as she slowly takes each step of one’s acceptance of death: denial (all smiles at the wedding), anger (mad at her mother), bargaining (the conversation with her mother about fear), depression (where she cannot eat nor walk), and finally acceptance.
The third act shifts the focus onto Claire as Justine has now accepted that, in five days, she WILL die. Conflict arises as Claire lives in denial with her husband John (Kiefer Sutherland), who is convinced there’s a miscalculation and that Melancholia will narrowly miss Earth. To speak any further would be an injustice to you dear readers.
It was a difficult decision to talk about the plot of Melancholia, but it’s been widely publicized that the film is about two planets colliding. It’s unfortunate that this device couldn’t have been shrouded in secrecy, as the impact of the reveal would have been revolutionary.
Lars von Trier is a self-proclaimed genius of filmmaking, and it’s hard to argue against it. The metaphor about Justine and Claire drifting apart, as two worlds collide, is some of the most arrogant, film-snob brilliance ever captured on celluloid. As much as people despise von Trier’s arrogance, Melancholia is literally a book on filmmaking, a flawless piece of art that should be shown to every aspiring director/writer/etc. until the end of the Earth, and the universe. And if anything, hopefully Melancholia will inspire the entire audience to celebrate each and every day that they’re both alive and healthy.