Melancholia (2011)

O…k. This was admittedly one of the stranger sci-fi films I’ve seen in a while… and I’ve seen my share. I like to think that I know a little about a lot when it comes to movies, but I’m NEARLY ashamed to say that the work of Lars Von Trier has been passed over…till now. A bizarre intro to his filmography, let me tell ya. This film is a morose, slow and somewhat (overly) self-indulgent examination of ‘humanity’ in the face of complete destruction. It focuses on the Kirsten Dunsts ‘damaged goods’ main character Justine, as she slides into a slow boiler of a nervous breakdown on the night of her wedding; just as a mysterious planet, on a bee-line for Earth, shows itself in the night sky. Being that the flick is told in two distinct parts, it’s only fair that I review them both individually. Here goes.
Part 1: Justine. The first half concentrates solely on the night of Justine’s lavish wedding, hosted at her brother-in-laws (an interesting Kiefer Sutherland) ‘mansion/golf course/stable’ home with a significant number of friends and family in attendance; all being rangled by her well-to-do sister. It all starts innocently and happily enough, but as we watch the events unfold, it becomes apparent that this group of people (played by a slew of familiar faces) are a disfunctional lot…none more so than the bride herself. Without the benefit of any real background info on the character, I found it more than a little frustrating to watch Kirsten Dunst (whom I normally like) mope around and do small, strange little things that betrayed some sort of vague psychological demons at work. I couldn’t relate to or understand why it seemed as though she needed to sabotage the efforts of those around her to show that she was loved. The sci-fi elements of the film are only JUST touched upon, with the planet Melancholia treated ‘in passing’. This sequence ends with a frustrating question mark on it.
Part 2: Claire. This is the part where the science fiction leaps to the forefront. We pick up at an undisclosed time after the wedding with the older sister Claire and her husband taking Justine in after she suffers a psychological break of some kind. As her sullen and fragile state begins to take its toll on everyone, it becomes alarmingly apparent that mankinds number may be up as the strange planet looms closer and closer. As the inevitable consequences become more clear, the two sisters seem to trade places, with Claire beginning to lose her ‘grip’ to deep panic and introspection. Justine, on the other hand, is almost maddeningly blase’and dismissive, when not succumbing to bouts of angry, misdirected frustration…mostly coming off like an apathetic bitch when she’s not just moping around or beating horses. As all this goes down, we start seeing the weird effects the approaching planet is having on our own. And you can probably figure out the ending.
So, as a ‘whole’, I have to say that I’m not exactly bowled over by this one. A number of things bugged me. Techncially, I found the excessive use of ‘hand-held’ distracting. Given the material, I felt that more shots of a ‘locked down’ nature would’ve been more appropriate. But that’s just me. Also, there are periods when we’re assaulted by a (nearly) over-powering ‘classical’ score; used to accent scenes of trippy weirdness. Again…just me. I would’ve preferred more background and motivation from nearly all the main characters as it felt as though they were plunked down in front of us to act like damaged assholes and/or victims. And some of the shots screamed artsy self-indulgence, in such quantity that it dragged the already lethargic pace to a crawl. On the plus side…Kirsten Dunst looks great nekkid! And so do the scenes highlighting the approach of Melancholia. It’s a long-winded, dreary, at times angering film that reeks of art-house pretension. Check it out if that’s your ‘thing’.


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