Director: Lars Von Trier
Cast: Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kiefer Sutherland
This is the way the world ends, not with a whimper but with a bang. The rogue planet, Melancholia, has been discovered by scientists after hiding on the far side of the sun for the entirety of human history. These clever scientists say it won’t hit us, just pass very close by. Some crazy loons on the internet think it’s going to pass by us and then turn and hit us like a sapient pool ball with a grudge.
This is the way two people end, not with a bang but with a whimper. Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) are sisters, and almost complete opposites. Justine is blonde, immature and suffers from depression. Claire is happy, in control and has settled down with a husband and son. With the background of Melancholia looming ever closer in the sky the two slowly begin to shift, until they can both experience firsthand the life of the other.
When I first heard about this project, I wasn’t impressed. A depressed person and the end of the world, I thought Von Trier was remaking Donnie Darko shot for shot in the same way that Gus Van Sant remade Psycho. Thankfully that’s not the case. Melancholia straddles the line between visual spectacle and human drama extremely well. The narrative comes across as cinematic novella, with the pacing of an opera due to crescendos at the beginning and the end.
The acting is excellent, Dunst and Gainsbourg subtly alter their performances compared to each other throughout the film and the duality theme rests on them. Sutherland is somewhat an outsider to the two leads, but seeing him return to real acting after years of playing the Republican wet dream in 24 comes as a great relief to me. The majority of the laugh out loud humour comes from the performances of John Hurt and Udo Kier, both play small roles in the overall narrative but greatly help the themes of the film with their inane problems.
It is a Lars Von Trier film, so you can’t escape the fact that it’s not intended for the mainstream audience. However as a cerebral human drama it’s excellent. Melancholia combines excellent cinematography with performances that speak in whispers to make a very concrete example of cinema at its best. If the notion of art cinema isn’t something that scares you, Melancholia should definitely be on your list of things to see.
Of course, if you endure art cinema rather than enjoy it, there is the fact that Kirsten Dunst loses her clothes in the film. That alone is going to up the grosses by at least a million…
Words by Taylor Iscariot