16 Jan


Empire magazine gave it five stars. Kirsten Dunst won six awards for Best Actress for her part in it. And IMDB’s viewer rating (which we know never lies) is 7.2 for it. All I have to say is huh? What? Why? How?

I will start at what seems like the best place to start, the beginning. Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia focuses on the lives of two sisters Justine and Clare. The film is divided into two halves and so first we are first thrust into Justine’s world where not only is she trying to enjoy her wedding day with new husband Michael (Alexander Skarsgard – True Blood, Zoolander), but she is also battling her own demons of depression and self-alienation. The second half focuses on Clare who whilst caring for her sister and family, including husband John (Kiefer Sutherland – The Lost Boys, 24, A Time To Kill), is also dealing with her fear of the blue planet Melancholia and it’s possible collision path with Earth.

This sounds so promising doesn’t it? Dramatic performances and realistic portrayals of family life, combined with a science-fiction undertone. That’s what I thought.

melancholia 2

The film opens with a set of extreme slow motion images from within the mind of Justine, all to be expanded on later. These images are stunning. Literally some of the most breathtaking cinematography and production design I have ever seen. The colours, the framing, the lighting, the movement, the locations are all magnificent, all with an air of peacefulness and calm to them. This is juxtaposed with the handy cam used within the wedding celebrations and the scratchy childlike way in which the film’s title is presented.


As an ex Film Studies student all of these aspects are a dream come true. The film is ripe for analysis and interpretation, for essay upon essay to be written about it; its technique, its intrigue, its position within film history etc. However, when you take a step back from that viewpoint, this film becomes less promising and more boring.

Boring might not be the right word. The film does grab you and it gives you just enough information to want to keep watching. You want to find out why there is so much tension within this family, to understand Justine and what makes her who she is and to sympathise with Clare who has the weight of the world on her shoulders. These complexities are never answered however and as a viewer you are left dissatisfied and frustrated. Alongside a tone that can only be described as still, Melancholia fails to pack any sort of punch. If you watch the first 7-8 minutes of slow motion imagery and the last 5 minutes of fast-paced impending doom you won’t have missed anything.

Kirsten Dunst is good and I can see why she has received so much praise, but her performances in The Virgin Suicides and Mona Lisa Smile are much more powerful, as this film doesn’t allow her to expand on the emotions which her character Justine is feeling. Charlotte Gainsbourg shines as Clare, her pain and desperation being so much more prevalent and relatable and I feel it is a huge shame that she did not gain the notoriety that Dunst did for her part.

Ultimately this film is all about visual stimulation. The performances are good but are difficult to connect with – which I admit is probably the point – and the storyline is slow and pointless with almost no resolution. Looking at this film as an ex-student I adore it, there is so much to work with and analyse. Looking at it as a layman I disliked it hugely, feeling cheated into wasting my time by the high praise from various editorials sprawled all over the DVD cover. Sadly the only thing I will take from this film is this stunning slow-motion image of Justine which I hope to have put onto a canvas for my livingroom. Says it all really doesn’t it?


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