It’s been often said that there’s beauty in sadness. Lars von Trier’s “Melancholia,” it seems, is a good example of that statement.
“Melancholia” (2011) begins at the end and, in this case, is both a condition and the name of a rogue planet threatening to hit Earth. A slow motion sequence introduces rather artfully the film’s characters and the collision of the eerily beautiful Melancholia to our planet before cutting to the first half of the film. These halves are called “Justine” and “Claire,” named so after the sisters whose lives are the focus of these connected segments.
“Melancholia” is actually an apocalyptic film. While most films of this genre are usually told from a scientific viewpoint (think “Armageddon”, “Pacific Rim”, and the like), “Melancholia” focuses on the personal struggles of its characters and only makes the impending end of the Earth incidental. It’s interesting because, firstly, you don’t find many movies created in the same vein. And secondly, it’s not your average slice-of-life showcase of people’s lives. Justine (Kirsten Dunst) is afflicted with depression that becomes worse by the time the second half of the film rolls in. Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) struggles to care for her sister while worrying that Melancholia would indeed hit Earth and is not merely a “fly-by” as what her husband, the scientist John (Kiefer Sutherland), initially claimed it to be.
Endings are what most people look forward to when watching movies, and with “Melancholia” revealing early on what would happen, you’d think things would go downhill from there. However, remember that “Melancholia,” although classified as apocalyptic, leans toward drama more, and so audience members’ interest in the story is aptly sustained by the characters’ individual stories.
An interesting tidbit about the film is that it was inspired by a depressive episode that Von Trier experienced himself. While in therapy, he was told that people who are suffering from depression already expect bad things to happen, making them calm even under heavy pressure. It’s always fascinating when something starts from a single idea and ends up into a grand, polished, and one-of-a-kind work of art.
“Melancholia” is character-driven, and there are excellent portrayals by the cast members, particularly by Dunst and Gainsbourg. Its cinematography is likewise beautiful. Without delving into technicalities, “Melancholia” generally is a must-see film worthy of the accolades that it has received. Its central character is afflicted by depression, sure, but it in no way glorifies it. But truly living up to its title, “Melancholia” leaves you not only at awe but also with a sense of lingering ennui. That said, make sure you have something fluffy and happy on standby. You might need it to wash down this film’s aftereffects.
All stills in this feature were sourced from Ace Showbiz.
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