Best Movies of All Time + Stellan Skarsgård



"Hold my hand. Close your eyes."

-- Justine
Melancholia is a 2011 dramatic arthouse film directed by Lars von Trier that delves into the concepts of depression and disaster. In the midst of her wedding celebration, new bride Justine (Kirsten Dunst) unwittingly falls victim to a number of outside circumstances that keep her from enjoying what should be the happiest day of her life. Her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and her husband John (Kiefer Sutherland) continually pester her about her mood, and she withstands a number of confrontations from her employer (Stellan Skarsgård) about work-related issues. Her mood swings affect her new husband Michael (Alexander Skarsgård), and at the end of the night, Justine finds herself without a husband and without a job. The film then transitions to its main story: Justine has fallen into a deep depression, and the world watches as a rogue planet called Melancholia heads on a course for a fly-by of Earth. Justine comes to stay with Claire and her family, and she slowly gets back on her feet. Around the same time, Claire begins to worry that Melancholia might, in fact, collide with Earth, causing the end of the world as she knows it.

I first heard about Melancholia as it made its way through the film festival circuits back in early 2011. Dunst managed to nab the Best Actress Award at the Cannes Film Festival, a feat which sparked early Oscar buzz for her performance. The film itself would go on to be selected as the best film of 2011 by the U.S. National Society of Film Critics, and it managed to score a number of nominations and wins at ceremonies around the world. But it was the performance of Dunst, whom has been both good and bad over the years, that truly drew my personal interest in the film. Little did I know that von Trier had something truly special hidden up his sleeve.

I think I need to start with this disclaimer before I get into my overall review: Melancholia is an arthouse film, and it's not going to appeal to all viewers and audiences. Fortunately, the film's opening sequence will set the stage for whether or not you are personally going to make it through the over two-hour venture. The film opens in true arthouse fashion with a number of seemingly random sequences that are sure to confuse many. I myself was scratching my head at the very outset, wondering what exactly I was getting myself into. If you're already turned off by the opening sequence, then Melancholia might not be the flick for you, but if it offers you a sense of intrigue, I implore you to keep watching.

As I previously stated, the film delves into the deepest realms of depression and disaster. It's not the easiest film to watch, and it certainly doesn't offer any real happy ending. It's going to leave a bit of a sour taste in your mouth, but I think that's the point. The storyline itself is relatively rudimentary, but it's the subtle nuances about the screenplay that bring this film to life. The events taking place in the world outside of the film's characters are merely the pieces that keep time moving forward. Melancholia is more about investing yourself in the characters and the emotions they convey. The brilliance in the screenplay stems from the wonderfully-written characters. Even the characters we only see for a moment seem perfectly-placed, and it gives the film a true sense of reality and validity.

The best part of the screenplay, in my opinion, is von Trier's look at the world of depression. Having had my own issues with mental illness, I'd be lying if I said I didn't take a personal emotional interest in the cinematic look at this world so familiar to me. Von Trier himself has had his own issues with depression, and it was these circumstances that led him to craft this particular film. What he creates is one of the most honest and heartbreaking looks at a person with depression, and for that alone, I have to applaud the filmmaker and writer.

This character-driven creation would have never come to life were it not for the stellar cast that von Trier was able to bring together. Dunst is a revelation as one of our principal leads, and I'm left scratching my head, wondering how she was left off last year's Oscar ballot. This is a role unlike any she has ever taken before, and she knocks it out of the park. I laughed with her Justine, I cried with her, I fell to the very depths of sanity with her. When an actor is capable of bringing the viewer on that kind of emotional ride, you know they're doing something right. What's incredible is that Gainsbourg is just as good as Dunst, and it's almost unfair to think that this film managed to snag two fantastic performances. Between the two, it's easily one of the best pairs of performances I've seen together in one film in the last few years. Dunst may take the cake, but Gainsbourg is definitely having a slice or two. The rest of the cast fills out quite nicely, with both the elder and younger Skarsgård offering solid, albeit small, performances. Sutherland also does well with his bit, but he's overshadowed by his female counterparts. Also be on the watch for a great bit piece from John Hurt.

As I said before, Melancholia is not going to be a film that everyone will enjoy. If you've watched other arthouse fare and had trouble remaining engaged, then you might want to pass this one by. However, I personally found it to be an incredible cinematic feat, and Dunst's performance alone is enough to give it recommendation. If you have the patience for it, I'm sure Melancholia will deliver for you in the way it delivered for me.
Movie Review SummaryGrade: A-Status: Should See

2011, Alexander Skarsgård, arthouse, Charlotte Gainsbourg, drama, John Hurt, Kiefer Sutherland, Kirsten Dunst, Lars von Trier, life, Melancholia, movie review, and more:

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