Melancholia is, imho, the most beautiful film about the end of the world… ever. It is also the only film of this genre that I’m aware of that comes close to examining how real people might actually deal with a situation like this – a rogue planet hurtling towards earth. Forget ridiculous big budget Hollywood dramas with romances, nuclear weapons and American heroes that save the world. Spoiler alert – in this movie THE WORLD ACTUALLY ENDS.
The opening sequence of the movie is quite spectacular – a series of animated stills based on scenes from the movie – a sort of prelude, set to the prelude to Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde. One of the most memorable openings to any movie I’ve seen.
Melancholia was apparently inspired by an observation of director Lars Von Trier’s analyst that people suffering depression are often better at dealing with catastrophes than other people. They already expect the worst, and have less to lose. The movie is centred around two sisters, Justine (Kirsten Dunst) the depressive, and Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) the more stable one, with husband and young child. As Claire falls apart under the pressure of impending doom, Justine barely registers fear.
Justine’s actions during the movie are certainly unconventional, but how much is due to her illness and how much to do with the impending end of the world… The movie starts two hours after her marriage, and during the night of the wedding reception she leaves her husband (Alexander Skarsgard), tells her boss what she really thinks of him (and is consequently fired), and has sex with one of the other employees of the company she worked for. Later, she lies naked under the view of the huge rogue planet – is she excited by its power?
Claire’s husband, one of the non-depressives in the movie, initially lives in denial. He tells Claire that scientists have worked out that the rogue planet (the eponymous Melancholia) will be a low fly-by and will not actually hit Earth. Does he believe this, or is he just trying to protect his wife and kid? Later in the movie he commits suicide – should he have stayed to support Claire and their child? Claire initially believes her husband, but once she realises the truth she wants to do the end of the world properly – in this case she wants to face it with her sister, sitting on the terrace of their home, with a glass of wine. An eminently sensible idea in my view.
There’s one puzzling aspect of the movie that I haven’t been able to work out. At one stage the two sisters are riding their horses around the estate, and Justine’s horse (but not Claire’s) refuses to cross a bridge. Later in the movie the golf cart that Claire is riding breaks down on the same bridge, so is unable to cross.. What does it mean? Is it some kind of metaphor for being trapped, unable to escape?
And just a note to myself here – I loved the setting for the movie, which turns out to be Tjoloholm Castle in Sweden. A must visit …
My score – 9/10