A huge planet is about to fly past Earth in a few days. A weird feeling is taking over Justine on her wedding day and ultimately makes her do a few mistakes during the after party. At the same time her sister, Claire, tries to keep the party going and make sure everything goes according to plan. In the following days after the party, Justine is feeling very weak and ill as she stays with Claire and her family, and it seems to be connected to the planet Melancholia.
I was very late in the game with Lars von Trier. Of course I knew who he was, I had seen some bits of his work but there was never anything I put much interest into before "Antichrist" came out, being in the horror genre and all. But since "Antichrist" I have gone through every feature in his filmography and rank him in the top of my favorite directors. When I heard about "Melancholia" I knew I had to see it, preferably on the premiere. Two days before the world premiere (well, it had Cannes, and two more countries before) I was gonna get tickets only to find out it's not showing in my closest city. So I decided to go to the closest city that did show it. Unfortunately I don't have a driver's license so that would mean lots of bus rides and lots of waiting. I just came home after spending 16 hours of my day to watch this movie. Was it worth it?
One important thing about "Melancholia" is that we're already told that the world WILL end in it. Lars von Trier has said it, and if you don't believe a trickster like him, then we have it in the epilogue of the film. The epilogue shows really visually stunning scenes from through out the movie we are about to watch (or rather, more artistic versions of what is going to happen). This is very reminiscent of "Antichrist" with the occasional artistic slow-motion shots we got in it, except everything is packed in the start of the movie here.
After this we're presented with two acts. The first act is "Justine", which is about her and her wedding. Justine (Kirsten Dunst) is a seemingly happy newlywed, and at first we're really feeling the connection between her and Michael (Alexander Skarsgård) as they laugh, hug, kiss and celebrate their wedding day. As Justine notices a weird star in the sky, she also starts acting strange and dozy, and eventually do some things that mess up the party. Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and her husband John (Kiefer Sutherland) are the hosts of the party and paid for the whole thing, so needless to say they're not happy with how Justine is screwing up her own party. The second act is "Claire", and it starts at the aftermath of the wedding party. Justine is staying with Claire, John and their son and is really weak. So much that she can't even take a bath without help. Mean while Claire is worried about the planet that is suppose to be flying by Earth, but her husband assures her that scientists have said it will miss.
It's hard to know how much to write about the story when everyone already knows that Earth will end. The fact that we know this makes it very interesting because even though the audience knows it (as I said, we even see it in the epilogue) we still get some weird hopes that it won't be true after all. Sometimes we even forget the planet all together because the first half of the movie focuses much more on the wedding and Justine. It's in the second act that everything really starts going as the planet Melancholia gets close enough to be spotted. The two sisters are really interesting to study, with Justine getting a pessimistic view at life and almost feels an attraction to the planet. And Claire is the much more humane part, with all the worry and panic that you can imagine getting in a situation like this.
The movie is shot, as usual with Lars, with handheld. Most of the film is pretty classic Lars in that sense, and most of it is also less visually striking than "Antichrist". But when the movie really does focus on beauty, it beats "Antichrist" hands down. And that's saying a lot because to me that "Antichrist" is one of most visually stunning films I've seen. Even though the style is directly influenced by Andrei Tarkovsky, I think Lars made it his own. "Melancholia" shares some of that visual style but as the planet becomes part of the visuals and not just the story, it's really amazing. The effects of the planet looks really good. Lars clearly knows how much and how little to put in his films to make it feel more than it looks. This movie is the least disaster-like disaster movie that I have ever seen, as the psychological aspect remains the goal and the planet is the backdrop. And of course it ends with the best shot of the movie, it's really beautiful and I'm happy I got to see it on the big screen.
Our two main leads, Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg are both great in their roles. Kirsten won Best Actress at the Cannes festival and she actually did a great job with her dozy, off-beat performance. I'm not sure I've seen her act as well as she did in this one. And then we have Charlotte... Her performance in "Antichrist" is absolutely harrowing and must've been a tough act to follow, but luckily she was given such a different part as the good, humane sister. Yet again she did a brilliant job and quickly make you forget her as the crazy bitch in "Antichrist". I wouldn't know who to give the Best Actress Award to if I were to pick between Kirsten and Charlotte.
Even though "Melancholia" probably is Lars von Trier's nicest movie to date, it's not without playing on your feelings. There are funny moments, very sad moments and extremely intense moments. It feels strange to say that it's his nicest when the fucking world ends, but it is. It's one of his most innocent, calm and atmospheric films. It doesn't leave you happy nor sad, you just feel hollow and empty. Ignore the scientific factual errors, you've got what you came for - Lars von Trier's film about the end of the world. Yet you're not sure if you got what you wanted when it finally ended. It ends in such a bang, but it's a peaceful bang. Too peaceful? Not at all, it goes hand-in-hand with the rest of the movie. Would I say it's his best movie? No, I still think "Riget" (I&II), "Breaking The Waves" and "Antichrist" are above this movie. This might be tied with some of his films, but I'm just clarifying where I stand on it. I think "Melancholia" is a fantastic movie, and I want to watch it again when I get a chance.