From the opening moments of Lars VonTrier's latest film MELANCHOLIA (2011), I was hooked. The exquisite extreme slow motion movement is beautifully orchestrated by Wagner's Prelude to Tristan and Isolde. We see a bride moving as roots tear at her feet, a mother clutching a child, a horse laying down all as two planets come hurtling toward one another to the inevitable end - the consumption of one planet by another. It's only later that we learn the larger planet is Melancholia and it is headed toward Earth; because after this beautiful prologue we are thrust into the marriage of Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Michael (Alexander Skarsgard)*. Justine and Michael are late for the very elaborate reception being hosted by Justine's sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and her husband John (Kiefer Sutherland). As the evening rolls on, it's clear that Claire is hanging on by the thinnest of threads and Claire and John are frustrated by her reluctance to put on a good show for everyone.
When Justine becomes aware that there's clearly something wrong with this planet hurling through space, things do indeed unravel, but not as one might expect. Justine seems relieved that things will be ending and her pain of living can be over as well. Claire and John are willing to accept the predictions of science that Melancholia will just pass by Earth and it will be a terrifyingly beautiful happening. The more likely the end appears, the more they unravel. To most, melancholy is a thing that passes briefly and fills one with gratitude that all the days are not thus. To those of us, and I count myself among those, who have experienced true melancholy know that it is the pain of trying to be free of it and act like everything is fine that is the most awful thing. The struggle to be heard and seen and experienced, the need to have our special vision acknowledged and respected are more painful than the pain of being swallowed up.
With VonTrier, one is always better off to let go of the reason why and give over to the experience of his films. There's message here, to be sure. But it is the beautiful way in which he presents the end of the world that gives the message its true impact. MELANCHOLIA is a beautiful thing indeed. A top notch cast lead with powerful performances from Dunst and Gainsbourg and stunning visuals make this melancholy a thing to be experienced. Brief appearances from John Hurt, Charlotte Rampling, Stellan Skarsgard and the wonderful comic relief of Udo Kier as the wedding planner make this a good solid film. Let go and let it wash over you.
In theaters now - but also On Demand with major cable providers. If you have a good home system, you can save yourself a few dollars.
*in a tux...can I just say "Yummy."