Melancholia is a movie of two halves. Moreover it is the story of two sisters struggling to find one another in the shadow of an extinction level event: the destruction of Planet Earth.
Impossible to pigeonhole, Melancholia focuses on the damaged Justine (Kirsten Dunst), a reluctant bride-to-be who seems more than a little distracted at her posh wedding where Mummy (Charlotte Rampling) and Daddy (John Hurt), icily estranged, continue their eternal war of words.
Then there is Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg), the level-headed sibling with nice husband (Kiefer Sutherland) and child who, it becomes clear, has been looking out for Justine all their lives.
Lars von Trier never offers up any easy answers for what is wrong with Justine. The Welsh have a name for it: hiraeth. It means homesickness, or a deep longing for home. Perhaps Justine suffers from it, too. But her longing is buried too deep for anyone to truly appreciate it, and solve it.
Von Trier hints at Justine’s travails. Is hers a marriage of convenience for the sake of big business? Why is she scared? Does she know more than anyone else – about the stranger in the heavens called Melancholia, a mysterious planet on a collision course with the Earth? Is this a case of life as art – she throws away a worthless marriage because she knows the future has no relevance or meaning?
Melancholia is an eccentric film – a very strange picture about mental illness, depression and the apocalypse. It asks frighteningly relevant questions about whether humankind should just accept its lot in life. Do we roll over and die? Or run? And if we run, where to?
The star-packed cast also includes Stellan Skarsgård and Udo Kier. Yet many have very little to do. It is the undercurrent that is the star along with Kirsten Dunst whose performance as the insular, wilful and ethereal Justine is a revelation.
Clearly von Trier has but to snap his fingers and A-list names come trotting. Dunst has been an actor of promise for some time; what Melancholia offers is a genre-busting opportunity to rid herself of the likes of Spider-man and be accepted as the new darling of the arthouse scene.
The haunting, erotic loneliness of a nude scene, with Justine lying naked staring at the night sky illuminated by the moon, sums up the hopelessness of man’s plight. And as Justine gives herself to a far-off rogue planet, so von Trier informs us all that we are but playthings in the hands of the gods.
Unique and intriguing.