When Lars von Trier channels his experience with depression through filmmaking, the result is an astonishingly surreal beauty. Slowly falling horses and colliding planets, stars and ravens, snow and ashes. Like slowly moving surreal paintings right before your eyes, resonating with a kind of melancholy that is both achingly beautiful and suffocating.
Melancholia is an art house fantasy drama about the impending apocalypse: a planet called Melancholia will hit the Earth in five days' time and we watch how the clinically depressed Justine (Kirsten Dunst), and her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg), come to terms with the imminent End.
The movie, which premiered at the 2011 Cannes Film Fest, is divided into two parts: first about Justine in her wedding reception at her sister and brother-in-law John's (Kiefer Sutherland) stunningly beautiful lakeside property (where the entire movie was shot); the second part focuses on Claire as Melancholia is looming closer to Earth; the mysterious planet previously hidden by the sun is a celestial beauty against the sky, its fascinating presence contradictory to the disaster it will cause.
In Part I, at the wedding reception, the film is intensely shaky, in an annoyingly dizzying documentary fashion that you have to patiently endure. Shaky, snappy transitions and tight close-ups. But this camera treatment is essential, as it effectively gives us a sense of reality, that this is not entirely a sci-fi movie, at the same time putting us in Justine's perspective-- detached and empty. Seeing but not feeling. Everything feels like a meaningless blur, with a dream-like atmosphere...just like what depression feels like.
Part II of the movie is more stable, in Claire's world, however gloomy, with an ominous feel as Melancholia is nearing Earth. Here, Justine faces the impending doom quite serenely, as Melancholia will end her misery and meaningless existence. Whereas Claire is wildly unprepared-- despite John's confident assurances that Melancholia will simply fly by, according to scientists.
Lars von Trier translates depression into a mesmerizing motion picture, merging reality and fantasy into a dramatic, magical experience that is still in touch with the universal truths about the human psyche. And we become one with each sister, seeing the world from two different perspectives.
Melancholia portrays depression and impending disaster with stunning and poetic imagery. And Richard Wagner’s prelude to his opera Tristan and Isolde, as the repeated musical score in dramatic moments, makes the film more emotionally intensifying. And the whole time, the ethereal beauty we see in the film runs parallel with a strong sense of melancholy.
The movie is not excessive nor self-indulgent. It is sincere and inspired, tragic and genius.
4.5 out of 5 stars