Lars von Trier’s Melancholia is one of the films I was most looking forward to, and therefore most disappointed that I didn’t get to see at the cinema, last year. After hearing so many amazing things about it, as well as being completely wooed by the trailers and screen shots, I was convinced that I would love it. Kirsten Dunst has starred in some amazing films (specifically The Virgin Suicides), so I assumed her appearance in this arthouse blockbuster would simply add more adoration for Melancholia. One of the worst things about highly anticipating a film as much as I did this results largely in disappointment; I’m really reluctant to write how much of an anticlimax this movie was.
Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Michael (Alexander Skarsgård) celebrate their marriage at a lavish party in the home of her sister (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and brother-in-law (Kiefer Sutherland). As Justine and sister Claire find their already strained relationship challenged, the planet Melancholia, a new; mysterious; blue planet, threatens to collide with Earth in Lars von Trier’s psychological disaster movie.
I was reassured by Melancholia’s incredible cast: John Hurt, Kiefer Sutherland and Charlotte Gainsbourg (I’m incredibly fond of Love, etc., although her portrayal of Claire is superb), but I am ever so slowly learning that just because the cast is full to the brim with talent it does not make it an amazing film (aka the Contagion effect). The cinematography and special effects (the pictures of space are phenomenal; the art references equally as breath taking) are incredibly beautiful; yet no amount of beauty can balance out the exasperation Melancholia instills in its audience.
Openly going against the grain of critics is a little daunting, and I’m almost scared to admit that I didn’t enjoy the experience of watching Melancholia. Lars von Trier has said that ‘a film should be like a stone in your shoe’, so perhaps this was more than deliberate. Misunderstood by her friends and family, Justine is encouraged to ‘pull herself together’; her husband refers to her mental illness as ‘being a bit sad’ at one point. The naivety expressed by the people she is closest to is incredibly frustrating, although this may be the desired effect. I can’t quite figure out von Trier’s intentions, something I find completely intolerable.
Irritating yet beautiful, depressing yet unforgettable; Lars von Trier has certainty created something remarkable in Melancholia. Whether or not it is an enjoyable watch is another matter entirely. Unnecessarily long, combined with unlikeable, inexplicable characters; the film was a huge disappointment. My first experience of a von Trier film was very disappointing, yet bizarrely intriguing and not terrible enough to prevent a re-watch.