Review of Melancholia

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Two sisters find their already strained relationship challenged as a mysterious new planet threatens to collide with Earth. Starring Kirsten Dunst, Alexander Skarsgård, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kiefer Sutherland & Stellan Skarsgård.
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Movie Review: "Melancholia"

--Rating: R (graphic nudity, sexual content and language)
Length: 136 minutes
Release Date: May 26, 2011
Directed by: Lars von Trier
Genre: Drama & Sci-Fi

"Melancholia" is a controversial film directed by avant-garde filmmaker, Lars von Trier. As the name suggests, this is not an upbeat film. It is the story of a depressed young woman named Justine. Melancholia is not only a disease, but a planet that will destroy the Earth. In the beginning of the film, the audience is treated to a lavish, over-the-top wedding. It's clear from the start that this movie is a visual treat. Things seem happy enough but quickly go wrong. The depressed girl cannot handle all the pressure being pushed upon her and retreats from her reception. Eventually, she makes a huge mistake and sleeps with a complete stranger. Her marriage effectively lasts less than one day.

It is during the reception that the audience is made aware of a red star. Only later is the importance of this celestial object revealed. After her marital disaster, Justine moves in with her wealthy sister, Claire. She has deteriorated emotionally and struggles to complete normal tasks. She has poor hygiene and a general uncaring attitude. Her relationship with her sister is strained. The sister, Claire, is responsible to a fault. This is a stark contrast to Justine who can be impulsive.

After Justine moves into her sister's mansion, the red star disappears. It is revealed that a planet named Melancholia has eclipsed it. The planet has a unique orbit that will bring it close to the Earth. Claire does an Internet search and fears the planet will collide with theirs and destroy them all.

The film deals with impending doom in a lovely way. The scenes are beautifully shot with breathtaking images. Director Lars von Trier has a way of hypnotizing audiences with engaging scenery and thought-provoking imagery. This movie is no exception. Though the end of the world is a heavy and depressing subject, in this film, it is approached in an alluring way. This is not the typical doom and gloom feature. It is mesmerizing and thoughtful.

Contrast is abundant in "Melancholia." Nearly every aspect of the movie revolves around stark opposites. It's not just Justine and her sister that contrast. Their parents, also, have distinctly different personalities. The scenes, themselves, offer contradictory images. The lavish wedding reception takes place at the grand estate of Justine's sister. The party atmosphere is often interrupted with moments of humiliation, shame, and depression. Characters in the film also have wildly different views on the world's fate. Some believe the world is about to end, while others think it will survive. It is these contrasts that keep the movie moving forward by creating intense drama.

Justine, played by Kirsten Dunst, is a likeable yet downtrodden human being. She is prone to stunning, dream-like visions and plagued by depression. It is her mental state that keeps her from panicking as the world is about to be destroyed. She actually expresses her view that the Earth deserves its fate and welcomes the end. Kirsten delivers the performance in an honest way. At no time does her acting seem forced or fake. The many emotional scenes are made richer by her acting. She breathes life into a moody character and brings a refreshing realness into a dark film.

At the movie's climax, the difference between the two sisters is apparent. The movie goes to great lengths to show that while Claire panics and becomes distraught, the depressed Justine is more accepting of the inevitable. Each character has a different way of dealing with the situation. Justine is embracing, while Claire is fearful.

While the relationship between Justine and Claire is the main focus, "Melancholia" features great supporting performances by Kiefer Sutherland and young Cameron Spurr. Kiefer plays Clarie's husband John with demanding fortitude. Again, contrast comes into play. His character is wealthy, overbearing, snobbish, and often rude. He antagonizes Justine and gets angry when she doesn't behave exactly as he expects. Kiefer really brings this character to life. Cameron Spurr plays Claire's young son, Leo. His performance is reminiscent of Haley Joel Osment in "The Sixth Sense." He delivers his lines with an angelic softness that brings innocence to the film. His scenes are some of the most emotional of the film. Cameron Spurr delivers a performance beyond his years.

The film takes its audience on a roller coaster ride. Foreshadowing, symbolism, and stunning imagery are used to convey the film's message. Though the subject matter is dark, this movie is worth seeing. It's an artistic masterpiece. The beautiful images, moving scenes, and thought provoking subject matter make it stand apart from other movies in the same genre.