How does one prepare for the end of the world? Do you run frantically trying to
hide from the inevitable, hoping it won’t actually happen? Do you pray for divine inter-
vention (as a Christian, this would be my option)? Or do you simply accept the dire fact
that the earth itself and everyone on it is about to be destroyed?
Director Lars Von Trier actually does give you a chance to ponder these options
in his incredibly slow motion opening to Melancholia. In a series of stylishly filmed vig-
nettes showcasing a precursor of what’s about to happen, Von Trier literally spoils his la-
test film with the total destruction of our planet by another celestial giant ten times the
size of earth. He then promptly proceeds to flashback, telling the story through the eyes
of two women. Kirsten Dunst’s Justine and Charlotte Gainsbourg’s Claire.
It’s supposed to be a gala evening for Justine. She’s just gotten married to Mic-
chael (Alexander Skarsgard) and their wedding reception, with all the elaborate and ex-
pensive trimmings, has been provided by her brother-in-law John (Kiefer Sutherland),
the event taking place at his lavish estate. She’s garnering massive support from her
sister Claire and the rest of her family, despite the unsavory issues amongst some of her
But something’s wrong. And it all begins when Justine notices an unfamiliar
star in the night sky. John, who is a big astronomy buff, tells her it’s from another
constellation. Everything seems fine then, but as the nightly festivities continue, she
becomes more and more depressed, nearly mimicking the confusion Richard Dreyfuss felt
about Devil’s Tower in Close Encounters. In fact ,she even finds the time to commit a
sinful act you’d probably consider devilishly spontaneous; plus her uneasiness rises to a
point where she’s resisting sexual advances from her new husband (not good). When
Claire confronts her about this odd behavior, Justine insists that this wedding celebration
is what she wanted. So what’s the problem?
The new planet Melancholia. There are no details about it except that it’s been
concealed by our sun and now moving through the solar system. John promises Claire
that it will just be a flyby, passing in front of them, similar to it’s encounter with Mercury
and Venus. Unfortunately he cannot keep this promise when he recalculates the trajectory
of this big blue planet and realizes that it’s about to make an unexpected u-turn – and
this time it’s not just a flyby.
At this writing, Kirsten Dunst has already collected several honors for her perfor-
mance as Justine, including the prestigious 2011 Cannes Film Festival award for best ac-
tress. (goodbye Mary Jane Watson). If she’s ever wanted to be regarded as a serious act-
ress with star power, Melancholia has assured her a respectable position. She embodies
the seemingly enigmatic Justine with a depressing inevitability of total disaster that de-
mands your attention, and stands evenly with veteran co-stars like John Hurt and Char-
The film itself plays close to a horror movie in that many of the panoramic scenes
of the mansion and it’s fertile surroundings are draped in bleak, sharp contrasts courtesy
of cinematographer Manuel Claro. He creates an eerie, appropriately foreboding mood
amongst Justine’s company as well as the land, sea, sky, and the horses which, in one
scene, calm themselves to accept what is about to happen.
Unlike disaster fare such as Armageddon, Deep Impact or even the 1951 sci-fi
classic, When Worlds Collide where a small group of people escaped to another pla-
net, Melancholia offers no human effort or true divine intervention. I won’t spoil some-
thing that’s really already spoiled, but the final scene is particularly frightening. It may e-
ven have you pressed against the back of your seat as our world comes to a tragic end.