The title of Lars von Trier’s film Melancholia sums up everything about the film – the tone, the characters, and the situations. The film is delivered in two parts. Part one shows us the wedding of Justine (Kirsten Dunst), a quirky and unconventional woman, who struggles to be happy on the happiest day of her life. Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and John (Kiefer Sutherland), her sister and brother-in-law, respectively, try to run the event successfully, constantly reminding Justine not to make a scene. Yet, Justine does some strange and unexpected things. Like most weddings, the attending guests are full of quirks, such as the boss who tries to sell his business to everyone in his speech, the sexually promiscuous father, and the mother against Western rituals like marriage. Throughout it all, there’s a sense of melancholia.
Part two occurs at a later time when the planet Melancholia is set to enter Earth’s orbit. Justine returns to Claire and John’s home in a seriously ill state. Claire, who this part focuses on, tries to care for her ailing sister, while failing to deal with her own anxieties about Melancholia potentially crashing into Earth, despite John’s reassurances it won’t. Strangely, while Claire seems to be in control during part one, it’s Justine who seems saner in part two because of her connection to the planet and her acceptance of their fate.
The cast put in a fantastic performance, with Dunst creating a great portrayal of an eccentric person, Gainsburg a control fanatic, and Sutherland a subtle, money-grabbing astrologer.
Most of the film is shot with a steady cam, creating a home-movie quality with its abrupt cuts, zooms, and pans, and wind on the soundtrack. This deepens the characters’ anxieties and creates a more intimate film. The soundtrack is minimalist, featuring only one piece of music played at appropriate times, while the long stretches of silence create a greater sense of anxiety and make the situation seem more real.
Melancholia isn’t for everyone. Its anxious tone will put off some viewers and its departure from conventional storytelling techniques will deter others. However, if you seek something different that explores mental health issues, then I recommend it.