Danish filmmaker Lars Von Trier crafts movies somewhat reflective of his own character, and experiences. In Antichrist [Blu-ray], a psychiatrist, and his wife, take a vacation, in the woods, and he has concerns that his wife's psychotherapy is not working, while both contend with an unthinkable loss. Lars struggles with depression have been well documented, as have his awkward comments about Nazism at the Cannes Film Festival, which have become a youtube phenomenon. Melancholia was crafted from a depressed state.
It's not difficult to see how personal experience emerges as art, in Melancholia, with depression being represented through a feminine lens mostly through the character Justine, played by Kirsten Dunst. The movie opens with a stunning five minute visual sequence with no dialogue, and a Wagnerian music soundtrack. As this happened, immediately I began to compare it to Tree of Life, although it's the antithetical, instead of creation, birth, and optimism we have a mood piece with destructive overtones.
As the movie begins we see snippets of a story unfolding in slow motion, snippets which will be developed later in the story, a woman in a wedding dress, a pretty face leeched of all energy, a horse unable to stand sinking in mud, and two planets about to collide.
When the movie proper begins we see a bride happy on her wedding day, at a castle in the country, with a 19 hole golf course.
As the evening dwindles down, her happy countenance diffuses, with self serving bitter cynical comments by her mother, played by Charlotte Rampling, directed at marriage. As someone prone to depression, she becomes assailed by lethargy and melancholy. Her sister, Claire played by Charlotte Gainsbourg, comforts her. As the facade begins to fall apart, she has sex with a random stranger, and a destructive confrontation with her boss, also the best man. Next morning her husband leaves her, and she has a breakdown. She remains at the castle owned by her sister, and her brother in law played by Kiefer Sutherland.
Meanwhile, a previously unknown planet Melancholia has emerged from the sun, and heads towards earth. We don't know if it will collide, and end the world or pass by. As it gets closer, its oppressive energy effects everyone, and both Claire and husband exhibit anxiety and depression, while Justine strangely becomes calmer. A mysterious scene has Claire searching a locked drawer looking for antidepressants. To whom do they belong? She, her husband or Justine?
If depression is the anticipation of loss then depressed people may be less troubled by a disastrous future, because they already anticipate loss. The prospect of the end of the world may very well be an antidepressant, as it proposes the alleviation of suffering.
The good points of this movie were its visuals, particularly the acting of Kirsten Dunst, who perfectly and convincingly plays the role of a depressed woman. She acknowldeges she would not have produced this performance without Von Trier. She won the Best Actress award at Cannes in 2011. Coupled with Charlotte Gainsbourg's performance, we have two great performances. Charlotte Gainsbourg previously won Best Actress at Cannes for her performance in Antichrist. One point of interest was the parallelsim of how horses who know nothing of the news finds themselves lacking energy, and how the proximity of Melanchol(y)a effects other peoples energy. Carl Jung said 'perception is projection.'
As someone with personal experience of the subject, I can say Von Trier represents depression effectively, and Dunst represents it accurately.
I have mixed feelings about the movie. I think it will get a mixed reaction from people. Some people will love it, and some people will hate it. If you did not like Tree of Life, you probably will not like this movie. If you did like The Tree of Life as I did you still may not like this movie. By the way The The Tree of Life won for best movie at Cannes in 2011.
Its slow pace while artistic is not necessarily engrossing. Something of the mood of the characters was conveyed to me while watching, and I had the parallel experience of feeling drained of energy at the time, although now I am glad I saw it.
Another movie somewhat similar that I absolutely loved was Another Earth. It's the story of a girl and what happens when Another Earth (Combo Blu Ray, DVD and Digital Copy) [Blu-ray
] appears in the night sky. Separately reviewed.
I definitely recommend getting it as a rental before you buy, and watch Tree of Life first. I hope this was helpful.