It’s already been a festival darling, taking out a European Film Award and a Palme d’Or nomination. It’s star Kirsten Dunst has also walked away with the Cannes Film Festival Best Actress award in what is sure to be a precursor to the upcoming awards season.
From Melancholia’s ten-minute opening visual spectacular, set to the tune of Wagner’s hauntingly beautiful and perfectly overly-dramatic Tristan & Isolde, you know you’re in for a surreal ride. Described as a disaster film with Sci-Fi elements, the truth of the matter is it’s all of the above and more. The tagline featured on the films poster exclaims “It will change everything”, and that is by no means an exaggeration.
Its title ‘Melancholia’ has two meanings, with each idea explored in the two parts to the film. The first is Justine (Kirsten Dunst), a woman suffering from severe depression who lets her illness get the better of her during her lavash wedding reception to Michael (Alexander Skarsgard), thrown by her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and brother-in-law John (Kiefer Sutherland). Justine plunges head-first down the rabbit hole thanks to the efforts of her disapproving mother, whose anti-marriage wedding toast leaves something to be desired. Her emotionally distant father calls everyone Betty and her boss hounds her throughout the evening to come up with a tagline for an ad campaign they’re working on.
“You don’t really see films about people going through depression because it’s not very cinematic... this really is something I think people need to see.” the star herself expresses.
Part two is Claire’s story, where Melancholia is a planet and it’s headed for Earth. Deemed a fly-by by scientist and her husband John, Claire’s new best friend ‘Google’ says different. So what do you do? What do you do if you believe the world is going to end and you can see it coming, literally. A mother to both her son and Justine, Claire acts how she is supposed to act until the “act” can no longer hold. Here, the audience is really put to the test when forced to watch as a family examines their futile existence when faced with its demise.
“I think it’s like nothing that’s really out there. It’s very special and everyone has a very unique and personal emotional experience with it,” declares Dunst.
Von Trier ('Antichrist', 'Dogville'), a victim of depression himself, handles the film like a true expert, effortlessly conveying that such an illness is often beyond words - it's an idea explored both literally and figuratively in the film. “I know things,” declares Dunst's character during Claire’s journey. Perhaps a line taken from real life, von Trier also knows things and he isn’t afraid to tell his audience. “Life is only on Earth... and not for long” - a chilling line of Justine’s dialogue. Chilling not because of it executor but because of its reality. “The earth is evil. No-one will miss it.” Allow that little nugget to marinate for a minute and you can actually feel the world start to change around you.
Love it or hate it, you’ll walk away affected, asking questions and provoking debates, in the best way possible. Please don’t let this beautiful film slip away unseen.