I have immense respect for a director like Lars von Treir. He doesn’t want to comprise his vision for people that think that it might too much. He makes pieces of art intended to shock the viewer into examining our misconceptions and revalutating them. Sometimes in the pursuit of this ideal, he can get lost but when he doesn’t he achieves something nobody else can.
Melancholia on the surface is about the end of the world and two sisters’ different reactions to the realization that they are going to die. But it is more than that. It is an exploration of manic depression, family, and repression. What do you do when you there is a good chance that the world around is going to be coming to an end within just a few weeks? Do you go on as normal pretending nothing is going to happen or do you freak out and fill your days crying? One sister played by Kristen Dunst decides to get married to a man she seems to love only to fall apart at the reception. Her depression rears its ugly head when she sees all of her estranged family gather and take everything out on each other. The other sister played by Charlotte Gainsbourg tries to keep her sister’s event on track and keep the facade of happiness intact. There are only murmurs of the planet called Melancholia that is on course for colliding into Earth, but nothing is said out right. The cloud is over everyone’s head and it manifests in different ways. Justine, Kristen Dunst, acts out on one of the most important nights of her life by escaping to take a bath, have rough sex with a stranger, and to tuck her nephew into bed. The whole time Claire, Charlotte Gainsbourgh, cleans her up, coaxes her out into public and gives her all the assurance she can muster. But it is never enough for Justine. She takes all she can from Claire and then declares it to be not enough. Claire’s husband witnesses all of these events and wants nothing more than for Justine to get out of their life. Of course he could never say that to Claire but it is painfully obvious. The obvious disfunction of the family is made painfully obvious by the horrible toast speeches, the locking of themselves in doors, the consumption of copious amounts of alcohol and snide remarks to each other. It kind of hurts to watch. This is where Lars von Trier excels.
Cut to a different point in time and Justine is brought home from a mental institution by her sister Claire. The planet moves closer and closer with each passing day. It is now on everyone’s mind and they cannot think or talk of anything else. Claire’s husband decides to keep the information that the planet will surely destroy all of us away from Claire and their son, but Justine knows almost intuitively. Claire finds out and she goes into a spiral that seems to consume her. She runs away desperately but nothing seems to be working anymore just like her life. All she can do is accept it and stay with her family until the bitter end.
The film exhibits no usual markers of an apocalypse film. You don’t see anyone outside of the mansion that Claire and her family live in. You never once hear the news reporting on the planet or them banding together to destroy the planet before it hits them. Once the inevitable begins to happen all you see out of the ordinary is nature. There seems to be millions of bugs flying everywhere and the horses act up. Everyone seems to have accepted their fate…
Accept your fate and dive into this film with an open mind. You will not be disappointed. I promise.