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Review: von Trier's 'Melancholia'

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It's the end of the world as we know it and Justine feels lousy. But her miserable state has little to do with the rogue planet hurtling through space towards Earth. For quite some time, Justine has suffered from a particularly nasty case of depression. Now she is getting married and coming unglued, and the world is probably going to be destroyed.

Lars von Trier's oddly compelling gloom-a-thon opens with the music of Wagner accompanying gorgeous dreamlike images of women trying to flee while Mother Nature reaches out to slow their progress. Meanwhile, the planet Melancholia fills the sky, on its way, most likely, to destroy Mother Nature and every last one of her children.

After the creepy-lovely prologue, we move to a mansion and join the wedding party of bride Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and husband Michael (Alexander Skarsgard). Justine is tended to by her sister, Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg). Meanwhile, Claire's husband John (Kiefer Sutherland), who is footing the bill for the lavish shindig, mutters and simmers. He is pretty much appalled with everyone on his wife's side of the family — her passive-aggressive, chronically whimsical father Dexter (John Hurt), Dexter's estranged wife Gaby (Charlotte Rampling), who despises ceremonies and jumps at any chance to let everyone know it — but he's especially irritated by Justine and Claire. He finds their codependent relationship unhealthy and maddening.

Other individuals of note at the party include Justine's callous boss (Stellan Skarsgard), her coworker/patsy-in-waiting Tim (Brady Corbet), and a wedding planner played by Udo Kier, star of Andy Warhol's Frankenstein, because how perfect is that?

Questions arise that must be swept aside. How could Justine possibly be so savagely depressed without Michael noticing before this evening? Why did anyone in the family invite mother Gaby when they knew she would eventually start spitting out hate? What exactly is the science of the big-ass planet heading our way? Forget those questions, and any of your own. Von Trier is uninterested in such trivialities. His concerns are bigger things, like thundering doom from inside and above.

Most of the action ... er, chatter, remains at the mansion. The approach of the planet Melancholia is referred to, but only briefly. The bulk of the talking consists of people telling other people to stop behaving the way they behave, with next to no success. Late in the film, when the planet is about to (probably) collide with Earth, more attention is finally paid to the apocalypse, but not in a disaster movie fashion. Von Trier simply sticks close to his characters and watches them see it through.

I liked Melancholia. It's a terribly depressing movie about terribly depressed people and situations, but feel-bad movies are sometimes a pleasure. I enjoyed the lovely visuals, including Kirsten Dunst's bare breasts (save your complaints — I'm gay, so I get to say things like that). The story made me think about rituals, the usefulness of belief systems, mental illness, life and death, and so on. I felt good at the end. No matter how depressed I get, I look downright chipper in comparison to Justine and Claire. Cheers.

Related Film

Melancholia

Official Site: www.melancholiathemovie.com/#_welcome

Director: Lars von Trier

Producer: Meta Foldager, Louise Vesth, Peter Aalbaek Jensen and Peter Garde

Cast: Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Alexander Skarsgard, Brady Corbet, Cameron Spurr, Charlotte Rampling, Jesper Christensen, John Hurt, Stellan Skarsgard, Udo Kier and Kiefer Sutherland

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