There’s a massive, rogue planet on a collision course with Earth. But knowing writer-director Lars Von Trier, we’re probably more interested in its symbolic, metaphorical implications.
Von Trier might be a huckster and may be a clown. Just this past year he got himself banned from the Cannes Film Festival after making stupid Nazi jokes and giving bad interviews—but who cares? The man is an artist. And Melancholia wounded my soul. This is the greatest movie ever made about depression, full stop.
Kirsten Dunst stars as Justine, the freewheeling, less-interesting bipolar sister born into a family of ridiculous privilege, rapid-cycling her way through one of the worst weddings ever captured on film.
Granted, she never had a chance to begin with, as her mom is Charlotte Rampling, going quietly bonkers in the guest bedroom while Papa John Hurt cavorts with double dates. Family and friends self destruct in blackly comic fashion throughout the screwball shenanigans, as Dunst’s Justine switches from ecstasy to punishing sociopathy.
Full disclosure: I spent the better (and worst) parts of last year in a relationship with somebody I loved who suffered from a similar disorder. Melancholia scorched me to my core and left me unable to speak to anyone for hours afterward.
Dunst, who won Best Actress at this past year’s Cannes Film Festival, is adorable and effervescent, yet capable of downshifting into shocking cruelty. She’s both an angel and a monster, and this is an amazing performance—there’s an astouding, real person buried under all that shit, but the more you keep watching everybody who loves her try and dig her out, the more I almost had to leave the auditorium.
The back half of the film, titled for her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is all about contrast, with Justine’s-well-put-together sibling trying to put a brave face on the inescapable armageddon that is about to occur. In all this chaos, as all the tidiness of Claire’s carefully controlled soccer-mom universe begins to disintegrate—Justine finally finds a state of grace, freed by the inevitable, and I quietly wept for her.
Von Trier has made no secret that he suffers from clinical depression, and has there ever been a better metaphor than a gigantic dark planet bearing down on you from the cosmos?
It’s the end of the world as we know it, and she feels fine.