Given the recent predictions of the rapture, Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia could potentially be seen to be tapping into a contemporary zeitgeist. However, despite this film’s incorporation of apocalyptic narrative it still falls short of delivering any real emotional gravity to this literally earth shattering event. Melancholia opens with a lengthy scene, in a clear homage to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, in which the earth is destroyed by a head-on collision with the fictitious planet Melancholia.
The film then occupies its time with a somewhat curious domestic drama in which all of the characters are caricatures of disenfranchised wealth. Kirsten Dunst stars as Justine, a temperamental newlywed who can’t seem to find happiness despite marrying the apparent man of her dreams and her business success. Alexander Skarsgård plays Michael, Justine’s newlywed husband; a character who is frustratingly passive. Perhaps the only character of redemption in this film is Claire, played by Charlotte Gainsbourg, a character selflessly devoted to her family, even if they aren’t all that appreciative. Keifer Sutherland plays John, Claire’s husband whose arrogance is only matched by his austerity. A curious addition is Justine’s boss, the ruthlessly driven Jack, played by Stellan Skarsgård, a character who only serves to emphasise Justine’s dissatisfaction with her own life, which makes you wonder why she would work for him in the first place. John Hurt plays Dexter, Justine and Claire’s father who for all intents and purposes is background scenery.
As the end of the world nears, the characters react in their individual ways; Claire becoming obsessed with the end not only of her life, but her family’s as well. John becomes fanatical in his belief that Melancholia will ‘fly-by’ to the point of delusion and then Justine, who up until this point in the film was cripplingly depressed, adopts an indifference and acceptance of the apocalypse. All of which is an interesting character study but only serves to alienate the viewer, with the possible exception of Claire.
There is an implied wider meaning to this film, but that is the key issue, it is merely implied and gets lost in the rather confusing haze. This film is not so much art as it is imitation of it, certainly the cinematic style of this film is brilliant, meticulous detail has been taken in ensuring the end of the world really does come to life before your eyes. The performances are indeed well portrayed; in particular Gainsbourg breathtakingly brings to life a woman who is losing everything she holds dear. However, beautiful camera angles and a superb score are not enough to redeem this film, in many ways these aspects merely become textures that wash over the viewer. Ultimately it is this numbing effect that is the most enduring quality of the film. This film I feel is a kindred spirit with Terrence Malik’s The Tree of Life, both films have spectacular visual styles but the overall meaning of them is muddied.
In summary, it’s the end of the world as we know it and Kirsten Dunst feels fine.