Film Review: Melancholia

Melancholia is a heart-wrenchingly acute depiction of depression. Those who are not fully absorbed may find the 136-minute running time a bit much, but most will be hooked by Lars von Trier’s film.

On her wedding day, Justine should be the happiest she has ever been. Instead, she cannot seem to shake her negative feelings. At the same time, her sister Claire is anxious about a planet which is set to narrowly pass by Earth in the coming days…

Lars von Trier’s Melancholia is more satisfying film than his last effort Antichrist. There is a completeness to Melancholia that was missing from the 2009 film. Melancholia is more conventional than its predecessor, and this is definitely a good thing.

Notwithstanding, von Trier hallmarks are apparent throughout the film. This is particularly true of the opening sequence. Although the imagery in this segment is beautiful, there is also a healthy dose of pretension. The slow-motion scene seems a specific trait of the director.

The beauty of Melancholia is its ability to compel viewers to identify with Justine, as well as Michael and Claire. Viewers should be able to empathise with Justine, as well as being able to sympathise with the frustration she causes to Claire and Michael. This bodes well for the second half of the film, which lays more emphasis on older sister Claire.

Melancholia‘s portrayal of depression appears incredibly authentic. What makes it so convincing is its multi-faceted nature. The nature of Justine’s plight is made clear as the first half of the film unfolds. It is difficult not to be moved by her condition. Her pained behaviour seems genuine, and illustrative of what a debilitating illness depression is. Similarly, the array of emotions expressed by Claire are equally convincing. The sympathy, frustration and sorrow Claire feels towards her younger sister exemplify why Melancholia is such a great film.

The film is beautifully shot. Lars von Trier and cinematographer Manuel Alberto Claro have done a fantastic job in making the visuals so alluring. There is a good mix of intimate shots and large-scale imagery, and great attention to detail. The effects employed by Melancholia are also good.

Kirsten Dunst offers perhaps her best performance to date as Justine. She is entirely convincing throughout the film. Charlotte Gainsbourg is also great as Claire, while solid support is offered from Alexander Skarsgård, Keifer Sutherland and John Hurt.

Melancholia can be heavy-going, with its sombre subject matter. However, it is an incredibly worthwhile watch.