Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

When he’s not on the microphone saying crazy stuff, director Lars Van Trier is behind the camera making crazy movies. Crazy. His latest epic ‘Melancholia’ is almost as description defying as any movie I’ve seen in recent memory, being an eclectic mixture of apocalyptic science fiction, mental illness, family drama, and wrought depression. Since this film has been out for a while, debuting at Cannes months ago, the raves from the important film critics who have seen this movie have been impressive, thus when it made it to our local art theater for its U.S. debut, you know we had to check it out to see what all the fuss was about. Film critics… I tell you.

It is wedding day for Justine (Kristin Dunst) and Michael (Alexander Skarsgard). What a handsome, happy couple these two are and what a beautiful reception that her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and Claire’s husband John (Kiefer Sutherland) have thrown for her. You might have observed that Justine and Claire seem to have the same genetic relation as a German Shepherd and a Tabby, right down to the way they sound since once has a British accent and the other doesn’t, but I’m sure even that has some impactful, subtle meaning that just went slightly over our heads.

Regardless, everything was going just swimmingly in this reception, that is until folks started to stand up and speak. Justine’s boss (Stellan Skarsgard) took his time to try to get Justine to hit some marketing deadline he has to reach, her dad (John Hurt) took his moment to rail on his ex-wife, her mom (Charlotte Rampling), who in turn took her time to rail on the institution of marriage. Gotta love family. The real issue, however, is the simple fact that Justine is mentally unbalanced. So asking the girl to keep herself in check for an entire day, with all this external stimuli bombarding her from all sides, just isn’t going to happen. Thus ends the worst wedding reception ever.

That was Part One, dealing with the crazy sister, where Part Two focuses on the depressed sister prone to panic attacks. Some time has passed since that awful wedding reception, hell if I know how much time, but there is a phenomena happening in the world right now. A planet that the scientist have called ‘Melancholia’… worst name for a planet ever… has been hiding behind the sun since like the beginning of time and is now making it’s rotational orbit towards Earth. Looks like it’s going to hit us, though John keeps telling his skittish wife that those in the know say it’s going to pass us by.

That’s bad and all, but again the real issue is Justine, apparently a functional loon before the wedding, but now The Crazy has completely taken over. Justine can barely feed herself, but fortunately she has her loving sister, one that she routinely psychologically abuses, to take good care of her. But off in the background, there is Melancholia casting its huge shadow. It’s getting closer… nope, it’s going away… oops, it’s getting closer and there’s Justine, who is just lucid enough to let us know that she knows that we are all gonna die. Justine… I tell you.

So what is Uncle Lars trying to tell us today? Even though I got a couple of virtually worthless college degrees on my wall, based solely on my ability to invent semi-coherent meanings out of the cryptic works of various literary artists, I’m not even going to pretend to bother with that this time around. I will say, despite the fact I have no real clue what Lars Van Trier is attempting to sell me, I had an infinitely more pleasurable experience sitting through ‘Melancholia’ than I did sitting through his last film, ‘Anti-Christ’, even though the literary translation of ‘Anti-Christ’ was crystal clear to me. Where ‘Anti-Christ’, in my humble opinion, was mean and vindictive, an artist with some serious issues using his audience to bludgeon us with these issues of his, ‘Melancholia’, while a bit on the fatalistic side, had a softer more winsome edge to it. Sidestepping the sketchy narrative and the sisters dealing with varying degrees of depression, the film does raise some issues as to how one reacts when all is lost. Would you be oblivious to this impending event like a child, or would you take the cowardly way out, similar to what one of our characters did in this movie, or will you simply just systematically freak out like Claire.

There are strong performances in this film, particularly from Kristin Dunst and Kiefer Sutherland, and while some may question Mr. Van Trier’s ability to tell a coherent story… or maybe that’s just me questioning that… ‘Breaking the Waves’ and ‘The Boss of it All’ excepted, most would have to agree that his visual eye, in this visual medium, is among the best of any film director working today.

But these strong performances and lush visuals were used to what end? Again, I don’t really know, but then this might be the point… to get people talking about what they have seen when they leave the theater as opposed to just being a stationary zombie watching meaningless pretty pictures pass by our eyeballs. No offense ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’. To that end, ‘Melancholia’ is a wild success because your party will have something to talk about after sitting through this one, that I can guarantee.

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