[14 September 2011]
PopMatters Features Editor
Director: Lars von Trier
Cast: Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kiefer Sutherland, Alexander Skarsgård, Charlotte Rampling
Country: Denmark / Sweden / France / Germany
“The earth is evil. We don’t need to grieve for it.” So declares a luminous Kirsten Dunst in Danish provocateur Lars von Trier’s best and most powerful film yet. In this dreamy meditation on depression—how it afflicts the sufferer, how it hurts those closest to them, and how little one can do to stop it once it comes sweeping toward you—we follow a pair of sisters as they hunker down on their palatial estate to await the end of the world.
Following a gorgeously rendered ten-minute introductory segment comprised of intense apocalyptic imagery over the foreboding strains of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, the film offers two distinct segments. The first follows Dunst’s shambling descent into a catastrophic fit of depression (on the night of her wedding, no less). The second follows Dunst’s sister as she comes to terms with the inevitability of the coming holocaust. If both sections are connected thematically it is that both lead inexorably toward a disaster which, in each case is shattering.
This is, in short, a film that demands your attention, and your patience. If it all feels a little absurd—the world is about to end because a planet quite unsubtly called “Melancholia” is on a collision course, after all—it shouldn’t keep you from engaging with the searing imagery and striking work from the dream cast of leads and supporters. Charlotte Gainsborough and Kirsten Dunst in particular give tremendously mature, subtle performances, while John Hurt as their playful but distant father runs away with much of the first half.