It's the end of the world as we know it and Lars von Trier does not feel fine. In fact, if his latest film Melancholia is anything to go, the Danish filmmaker has a very bleak view of the world. Melancholy presses down on every frame in his epic ode to depression, making this one of the most obviously titled films since Kill Bill (because she sets out to kill a guy named Bill, get it?). The first 10 minutes of Melancholia are quite beautiful as one lush, slow-motion shot flows dramatically into another and Beethoven's The Symphony No. 9 plays in the background. With no dialogue and no story, these are probably the most memorable moments of the film as the central characters feature in the living painting von Trier has created.
Unfortunately that's where all notions of warmth towards Melancholia end as we're kicked into the story of Justine (Kirsten Dunst), who has just married Michael (Alexander Skarsgrd). The initial happiness of the newlyweds is short lived, however, as the pair arrive late and to a hostile reception from Justine's dysfunctional family at their wedding reception. The unhinged father (John Hurt), the bitterly disruptive mother (Charlotte Rampling), the cold and calculating sister (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and wealthy wanker brother-in-law (Kiefer Sutherland) make up Justine's immediate family. With their continued jibes and selfishness, throughout the night Justine begins to unwind and we're given a glimpse at her true personality. Beautiful and wanting desperately to be like everyone else, Justine is a very unhappy and unstable young woman.By the second half of the film we get an idea of just how troubled Justine is when the story is told through the perspective of her sister Claire (Gainsbourg). Justine is suffering from crippling depression and after the failure of her brief marriage, she moves in with her sister who fights to help her perform the most basic of tasks such as bathing or eating a meal. Claire's husband John (Sutherland) and son are spending most of the time at their mansion anticipating the arrival of the newly discovered planet Melancholia. The huge, blue orb had been hiding behind the sun for centuries and is predicted to pass close by the earth in a matter of days. As John explains, there are thousands of variants with a scientific phenomenon this huge and it soon becomes clear that Melancholia is going to collide with earth and destroy the planet. While their imminent destruction begins to bring Justine out of her depression, Claire starts her own spiral.
Technically Melancholia is an impressive film. Von Trier - although best known more recently for his Hitler comments at Cannes - is an accomplished filmmaker who has made a visceral and disturbing piece of art. Dunst deservedly won the Best Actress award at Cannes for her role and she may only lose out on winning the Oscar due to the understated power of her performance. The rest of the cast too is faultless, especially Skarsgrd in a refreshingly daggy turn instead of his usual sexy villain shtick on True Blood.The problem is the central message of Melancholia seems to be life's a bitch and then you die when a big blue planet crashes into earth. Not every film needs to have a redeeming comment on life, but the film is so long and utterly hopeless you can't help but leave feeling angry at both yourself, for coming to see it, and von Trier for being such a miserable bastard. Melancholia would have played better as a dialogue free, four minute video clip for a 30 Seconds To Mars song than the well-over two hour ordeal that it is.
Melancholia is out next week.