This is a hyped-up film. Whether or not a perfectly timed PR stunt or not, Lars Von Trier's controversial Cannes debut of his latest foray into controversial film-making made sure all eyes were on Melancholia by the time of its release to UK cinema.
And it doesn't disappoint.
We're drawn into Von Trier's world immediately. The ten-minute long opening credit sequence takes us through a slow-motion montage of haunting and inexplicable images of various interpretations of impending death and fear that are so beautiful they defy explanation. But suffice to say, the tone is set for a bleak conclusion. The frequent shots of Planet Melancholia on a collision course with Earth are set to the score of Wagner's Tristan and Isolde, portending an epic and momentous occasion.
The first part of the film focuses on Justine, whom Dunst captures perfectly with a flawless interpretation of a woman resigned to a state of constantly battling her own demons. The scene is set as the day of Justine's wedding to Michael (Saarsgard) and from the outset the reception is set as a disaster, as one thing after the other goes wrong and we watch Justine spiral into fear about her new role as 'wife' and ultimately pull down the world around her, ending up alone and husband-less in the space of 24 hours.
Part two introduces us to her more seemingly sensible sister Claire (Gainsbourg) and the issue of the impending possible collision with Planet Melancholia is bought into the plot. The ever-present planet is an eerie and constant presence over the entire second part of the film, hanging over the sky and the mood of every scene. Claire's husband John (Sutherland) is a convincing spouse/scientist who is studying the planet's course, continually telling his wife that the world will not end. All this does, of course, is set up the dramatic irony of what we all know is coming.
As we follow the slow descent of this family into a fear-fuelled madness as the eponymous planet approaches Planet Earth at greater speed, it is Claire who descends into a panic attack whereas the thought of the end of the world for depressive Justine is almost an ecstatic relief: "The world is evil. Don't grieve for it."
This film isn't perfect - there are parts of the script that feel forced and ridiculous. Skaarsgard's fleeting moment as the groom who gets broken up with on his wedding night is all but glossed over, and the fact that no-one thinks to turn on the TV news ahead of the planet's impending doom is annoyingly omitted. However, none of this really matters. It all adds to the strange, detached feel to the film. Nothing is quite developed, nothing CAN be developed as it is about to be the end of the world as we know it.
As we reach the film's spectacularly visual conclusion, the gravitational pull of Planet Melancholia itself seems to draw us in - we're powerless to stop ourselves.
In Melancholia, Von Trier has achieved an emotionally seismic drama about the meaning of existence and is a fascinating account of the relationship between two emotionally damaged sisters and the fate of the world.
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