Lars Von Trier’s acclaimed follow up to Antichrist begins with a gorgeous montage, which sets the tone for this stunning piece of filmmaking. Typically the celebrated director artistically foreshadows the catastrophic events that later arrive in the narrative and establishes the bleak tone from the off. Revealing the film’s conclusion at the beginning immediately sparks a sense of dread towards the ending. This is an “end of the world”, disaster movie like no other. Acting oppositely to similarly premised films, the pacing is slow; highlighting the inevitability of what’s to come and the impossibility to prevent it. The slow build up to the climatic destruction doesn’t add a thrilling suspense; instead it creates a far more effective harrowing tension.
The decision to split the narrative into two parts ensures that neither half of the story becomes too dragged out and tiresome. With part one titled Janine, named after the central character who experiences a disastrous wedding. Filmed with a cinema vérité approach, extracting the shaky cam techniques seen in that style of documentary filmmaking, it cleverly works to place us into the party – allowing us to observe the family and relationship closely. Naturally, we’re not made to feel entirely connected to the party. As outsiders intruding on the awkward festivities, their personal mannerisms, flourishes and quarrels are alien to us. This disconnection, while being so intimately forced amongst it creates a sense of unease that we are encouraged to take with us into part two.
As part two, Claire, contains the main attraction of the film – set after the failed wedding – with the fast approaching planet ‘Melancholia’ scheduled to fly by Earth in a once in a life time spectacle. Janine is taken in by her sister, Claire, after suffering with depression due to the self-destructive break-down of her relationship on her wedding day. Dramatically in this half of the film, focus falls away from Kirsten Dunst’s lead character and shifts instead to the looming and potential threat faced from the planet hurtling towards Earth.
Our awareness of the outcome leaves us to bleakly observing Claire, as her anxious concern for the wellbeing of her life and family is futile. Once the damning realisation hits home, it’s a sad experience to watch desperate and short lived attempts to run from the inevitable. Following an existentialist declaration from Janine and a realisation of the universe’s desertion to life on Earth we end at a heart-breaking, beautiful and extremely real conclusion.
At a quick glance the first part appears irrelevant to the movie, but its development of Janine’s character and the emotions it places you on for the final hour of the film is essential for the atmosphere required to get the most out of the end of the world experience. Other than a charming performance of the eccentric man-child father played excellently by John Hurt, that unfortunately isn’t granted more of the two hour nine minute run time, none of the performance particularly stand out. Everyone is adequate in their respective roles, but Von Trier appears to be more preoccupied with framing Dunst’s nipples than bringing the best out of the acting talent available.
That said, this picture contains a simply stunning aesthetic that goes beautifully alongside a unique yet ultimately sad family tale. The title forewarns the mood of the piece, so don’t expect to come out smiling after experiencing Melancholia.