Split into two parts after a dream-like prelude, Melancholia tells the story of a pair of sisters, Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg), as they await the end of the earth.  The first half, titled 'Justine', shows us Justine's wedding party at her sister's mansion, a halting, uncomfortable affair marked by bitter family tensions, awkward reticence, abrupt proclamations of spite, and moments of tenderness and forgiveness, not necessarily entirely unlike typical weddings, although perhaps, in Lars Von Triers' hands, the unhappiness and hopelessness is nearer the surface.  The second half, 'Claire', revisits the mansion some time later as Claire, her husband John, and her young son Leo, ponder what John assures them will be the near-miss of the planet Melancholia.  According to John, an amateur astronomer, Melancholia will not hit the earth but which will swoop around it, although Claire is not so sure.  Justine, ragged and exhausted with depression, comes to stay with them to recuperate, and they watch Melancholia and await their fate.


 This film was highly successful when it premiered at Cannes, despite Von Trier's repudiation of the film in his director's statement ("I feel ready to reject the film like a wrongly transplanted organ") and his wish that what he correctly sees as a beautiful film contained "a splinter amid all the cream that may after all crack a fragile tooth".  (Quotes from:

The idea for the movie came to Von Trier when he was in therapy for depression; the film portrays a character with depression (Justine) and the effects of this depression on her family.  It combines a contemporary realism ("she's sick," says Claire, and when we next see Justine, she does look sick) with the wildly heavy-handed, or heavy-orbited, image of a swirling blue planet, Melancholia.  It is a startling film for its almost seamless synthesis of "fantasy" and "reality"; the film infiltrates a realist aesthetic of unmade, wrinkled faces with fantasy tableaux, stark family drama with science fiction, and sour spite with charming comedy (particularly around the frustrations of family; there is a healthy dose of irony, as when the most scathingly bitter character, Charlotte Rampling, is last seen doing yoga, and even some slapstick: the refusal of the wedding planner to look at the bride who has spoiled his great event). 

For all its ostensible "obviousness" (of depression as a sickness, of the metaphor of Melancholia bearing down up life), it is a tremendously ambiguous production perhaps most obviously in Kiefer Sutherland's wry, witty performance as John, the wealthy brother-in-law, who could have been played for a cad or a villain; instead, it’s a rich performance of stinginess and generosity, of courage and cowardice.  The ambiguities running throughout the film are embodied by Justine and by Melancholia: are they beautiful or ugly, cruel or salvational, awe-inspiring or pathetic?  Is depression a fear of annihilation or a desire for it?  If everything is evil and deserves to die, why be depressed?  If all you see is evil, how do you end up protecting vulnerability, sentimentality, and love?  Von Trier needn't worry; this film is not all cream, it's full of splinters.     

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