Movie Review: Melancholia

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Although I found Antichrist to be a pretentious, nonsensical, overlong waste of time; film director and notable weirdo Lars von Trier’s newest film, Melancholia, actually looked appealing to me. So I drove on down to the local art theater on a lazy Tuesday night and bought myself a ticket.

The film is, boiled down to its simplest core of a plot, about the impending doom of a newly discovered planet (named Melancholia) running a potential crash course into the Earth. In addition to the science fiction element, it’s also about the struggling depression of Kirsten Dunst’s character, Justine, and the family drama she creates with her destructively aloof attitude.

I actually had, perhaps, a completely different than intended experience with this film regarding its layout. Due to some unexpected delays in my travel time (I hit every light I possibly could, and got stopped by two trains… TWO!), I strolled into the movie uncharacteristically late. I showed up 10 minutes into it, and completely missed the opening scene. To me, the film started out with an extended wedding reception sequence. Like, Deer Hunter levels of wedding reception girth. It does a decent job setting up characters, and that’s basically all it does. Most of it didn’t even really seem all that necessary (a lot of minor characters are developed that you never see again later in the film), but I get why it was done. To give a little depth to the characters, so you actually care about them when they face the potential doom of Earth later in the film. Then the second half of the film focuses on Justine’s sister Claire mainly, as she takes a damaged Justine into her home on the eve of Melancholia’s journey past the Earth. Kiefer Sutherland plays Claire’s astronomer husband who is gleefully excited to watch Melancholia pass by the Earth, because he’s calculated that it won’t actually hit it…

It all played out fine for me without seeing the first ten minutes, but then I went online to see if some glorious pirate uploaded what I missed to YouTube, and sure enough someone did! What I missed was a gorgeous set up to the entire film. Had I seen it before the movie, it would just look like eerie, super-slow-motion nonsensical imagery. Having watched it after the film, it becomes a haunting recap of the events that transpired. Almost a short film in itself:

That’s purdy… But I’m not so sure I would have liked to have seen the movie with that preceding it now that I’ve seen the entire film. It sort of gives everything away. The last act of the movie was easily the best part of the film, and I thought it was done well enough that foreshadowing might have ruined it, maybe? I don’t know. Whatever the case, the opening sequence was meant to be the opening sequence, so von Trier’s vision was obviously to watch it first. Just saying, it’s probably very different experiences seeing that sequence and not seeing that sequence. Everything aside, that whole sequence is beautifully shot and pretty incredible with the audio and everything, in my opinion. An interesting short film in itself.

I’m surprised about one thing people are talking about with the film, though. I’m surprised people are praising Kirsten Dunst’s performance so much. I’m no actor; but playing quiet, emotionless, and despondent seem like the three easiest characteristics you could possibly act out. She did a good job looking great in von Trier’s lenses, but I wasn’t all that blown away by the performance itself. This is the go to movie if you want to see her topless, though. Just saying.

Melancholia is a movie that I was interested in initially. Then the wedding reception becomes kind of drawn out. Definitely goes on too long for its own good. It picks up again in the second half with the rogue planet looming, and it makes me wonder if the film would have been 5x better if the wedding reception was cut down to 15-20 minutes? I don’t want to get labeled as a dolt, but I would trade in 80% of the character development in the first half for more of the planet destroying Earth plot elements of the second half. I was incredibly riveted by the science fiction portion of the film.

I don’t think I could, in good conscience, recommend this film to most people. I think everyone I know would no longer value my opinion on films if I told them to go see this because it’s so awesome (which I didn’t think it was, but it’s certainly good, to me). And that’s based solely on the test of patience that comes with the first half of the film. I sort of like the kind of pacing this film has, but most people don’t. If you like arthouse independent films, consider checking it out. If you want something of moderately similar tone/subject matter, but way more action, I’d suggest Danny Boyle’s 2007 film Sunshine. But Melancholia is the end of the world film for the fan of good ole fashioned slow pacing and grueling character development.

7.5 out of 10

4 thoughts on “Movie Review: Melancholia

  1. Auriel says:

    Nice review. That’s really interesting that you missed the first ten minutes. Having seen it through in its entirety, I’d say the wedding serves as more than character development. When you see the first ten minutes, the wedding scene has a whole other meaning. It makes all of their family issues seem so trivial (and it isn’t coincidence that Claire says to the wedding planner, “how trivial”). I do agree that it could be shortened, but I think it is still a significant scene.

    • scottodactyl says:

      Yeah, it definitely puts a different (correct?) perspective on the whole movie if the first sequence is actually watched. I’m not *supposed* to walk in 10 minutes late to a movie, so I watched it incorrectly in accordance to the overall vision, but it definitely puts a totally different spin on the movie if you don’t see it. Looking forward to watching this again (from start to finish!) on Blu-ray in a few months.

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