Lars von Trier’s Melancholia is really two films in one. Broken up into two acts, Melancholia follows the lives of sisters Justine (played by Kirsten Dunst) and Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) during a life-altering and life-ending event. After opening with gorgeous cinematography and visual effects, the film begins its first act — Justine’s wedding day.
The first act revolves around Dunst’s character, Justine, who is set to marry Alexander Skarsgard’s Michael. While the scenes started out cheery and happy, it soon becomes apparent that Justine has underlying issues.
In a wedding night that seems to never end, Justine manages to lose just about everything she values mainly due to the fact that she can’t accept her future. She seems to be running away from the bright future fate has laid out in front of her. The question “Am I ready to settle down?” is slowly, but surely answered on a night full of drama, laughs and emotions.
It becomes quite clear that Justine feels suffocated by all the things going on in her life until she reaches a breaking point. Dunst’s portrayal of Justine is one of her finest roles to date. I wish I could say the same for Skarsgard, but unfortunately, his character is practically neutered. It’s a drastic change from his character on True Blood, but he doesn’t quite nail it so it feels forced.
Gainsbourg as Justine’s sister Claire and Kiefer Sutherland as brother-in-law John both turn in fantastic performances in Act 1. Overall, I enjoyed the first act better than the second act.
Act 2 focuses on the threat of planet Melancholia colliding with Earth. This act is centered around Claire as she cares for her family and Justine with a potential doomsday scenario looming.
In this act, Justine begins as a crumpled depressed mess who Claire ends up taking in. Is Justine depressed because of the impending doom or because of the new direction her life has taken?
As Melancholia plummets closer to Earth, Justine begins to accept the potential apocalyptic result and ceases running. Now it’s Claire’s turn to live scared and running. The second act places relationships under a microscope while examining how such a significant event can either unite or divide.
The great performances continue in Act 2, but mainly because the number of characters is severely diminished giving each actor a more meaty role. I also enjoyed the juxtaposition of roles for Claire and Justine. This act is a true slow burn that is painful yet enjoyable to watch.
Overall, Melancholia is a beautifully rich and deep film. Dunst turns in one of her best performances yet though I’m not sure it will be good enough come awards season. Melancholia is definitely worth seeing on the big screen.
Photos courtesy of Christian Geisnes.