Melancholia (a review, and some ramblings)

*A little aside before I continue to my short review. It’s good to be back after a month long disappearance here. A lot of things have happened since my last update, among them being me finally getting a teaching job at my old highschool. Unfortunately, that means that I won’t be able to update this  blog frequently again (not like I constantly update this little space in the Interwebs). That doesn’t mean, however, that I’m shutting this blog down. As long as there are people who follow this little blog of mine, Dr. Bok will continue to conquer the world, one film review at a time.

** Another aside before I move on to my short review, this entry is the first of a possible “Cannes Film Festival ” marathon. So far, I’ve seen Melancholia and The Tree of Life. I have yet to watch Drive. So, expect the next entries to be on Terrence Malick‘s personal magnum opus, and that thriller film starring Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan. Now off to my review. And as early as now, I’d like to issue a SPOILER ALERT throughout this entry.

First of all, Lars Von Trier‘s Melancholia is described as an apocalyptic/psychological film about a depressed lady played by Kirsten Dunst, and a huge planet called Melancholia heading towards Earth. That’s all there is to know about the film. We are introduced to a surreal prologue involving the film’s main characters, ending with the gigantic planet Melancholia colliding with Earth. Then we move on to the film’s first hour. We are shown Justine’s wedding celebration, though to call it a celebration would be likening an embalming process to a trip to the hair salon. Justine is clearly not in her right mind. Her family is in shambles. And her boss is a self-centered prick.

The second half of the film deals more with Justine’s sister, Claire, and her attempts to take care of a Justine whose depression renders her incapable of doing the most basic things such as bathing, eating, and opening the door to a cab. Oh, and the planet Melancholia collides with Earth and destroys life as we know it.

Yeah. I just told you the entire film. We’re done here.

Oh fine! Here are the good and the bad just so you guys don’t accuse me of being unprofessional.

The Good

The strongest element of the film is the acting. Kirsten Dunst possibly gives the performance of her career as the depressed Justine. Her portrayal of the character, though more arguably a stereotype rather than a character, gives life to the otherwise flat character. Charlotte Gainsbourg, playing Claire, gives a more rounded performance than Dunst. We clearly see how her character changes from the person whom Justine depends on in the first half, to the character who must depend on Justine by the time the world comes to an end.

Lars Von Trier’s direction of the prologue and the finale are commendable. The opening prologue (set to Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde) is a visually impressive set-piece, while the finale is a touching, yet bleak moment in the lives of Justine and Claire.

As for the visual effects, they do not overwhelm the film’s human story (or lack thereof). They work well for the film.

The Bad

The premise, in the hands of a more talented filmmaker, is a goldmine. It’s about people struggling or coming to terms with the end of the world. The human element is present there. And I agree with Von Trier’s decision to not fully explain the science behind the giant planet. What I do not agree with is his take on the human story. In his interviews, he claims that his film is about the psyche of people during an impending apocalypse. But what the film showed was a disjointed two-act film about a depressed woman, the reversal of her sister, and a giant planet colliding with Earth.

The characters were not fully optimized. Claire broke down in the end, while Justine, trying her darndest to be profound, simply says something in the line of “life on this Earth is cruel, and that it deserves to be destroyed.” Do we really need to sit through two hours just to hear that?

On the nit-picking side, who in their right mind would name a newly discovered planet, “Melancholia”?

The Verdict

I understand that the film’s story is quite autobiographical, in the sense that director Lars Von Trier is recovering from clinical depression. This, unfortunately, is the film’s downfall. The universal themes associated with the apocalypse is replaced by a crazy auteur’s heavy-handed musings about the bleakness of human existence.

2 Stars out of 5.


One thought on “Melancholia (a review, and some ramblings)

  1. meganchapple

    I agree with you on most of this but I believe this film actually explained a lot about depression. I think a lot of people believe those with depression are all “the world is ending” etc but in this film the world is actually ending yet the character with the depression is the strongest out of them all. Kirsten Dunst, who also recently recovered from depression said in her interviews that the protrayal of depression in the movie was very spot on. I have also written a review of this movie. Go to to read it


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