The Sky is Falling, The Sky is Falling! (Film Review: “Melancholia”)

A visually and emotionally sumptuous end-of-world film unlike any other, Melancholia paints the cosmic disaster in somber and surrealistic tones, where it resides deep inside the psyche.

SnapShot Plot

A dysfunctional wedding weekend is held at an isolated, grand estate while an alarmingly bright star in the evening sky makes its inexorable journey towards the planet Earth. This is the backdrop for 2011’s Melancholia, one of the most emotionally complex, stirringly beautiful films ever made. The Danish filmmaker, Lars von Trier, whose work has mostly been groundbreaking and always confounding (ex. Breaking the Waves; Nymphomaniac), here creates a poetic and elegiac disaster movie, perhaps launching a new genre in the process.

Leading an all-star cast of international talent and mesmerizing in the role, Kirsten Dunst is Justine, the clinically depressive bride whose sister Claire (played by the riveting Charlotte Gainsbourg) has thrown the posh festivities on the grounds of the estate she shares with her wealthy American husband, played by Kiefer Sutherland. Justine’s bewildered groom, Michael (Alexander Skarsgård) is out of his depths faced with Justine’s toxic depression, as is the entire borderline mad family, who vacillate between benign denial and alarm at her Ophelia-like predictions and philosophical outbursts. Justine’s barren outlook on herself and the world are refracted through a cosmic phenomenon taking place in which a planet called Melancholia seems to be on a collision course with Earth. The global science community seems divided, though, on whether apocalypse is imminent or if Melancholia will somehow spare us in her rapid trajectory.



Parting Shot

The film is comprised of three parts. First is an extended prologue made up of a series of slow-motion sequences that artfully combine the lush music of Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde with surrealistic and hypnotic set pieces that symbolically predict what’s about to happen. Then the main action of the film is split between two chapters: Justine and Claire.

Rather than broad references to the certain chaos taking place outside the bucolic realm of the country estate, von Trier trains his lens on the interior turbulence within the family: the fractious bond between sisters; the neurotic optimism in the face of certain doom; the secrets and betrayals between spouses; and in the end the utter failure to survive. But ironically (and this poetic element is what von Trier does best) as the fate of mankind  – and these few individuals –  winds down to a matter of hours, it’s an overwhelmingly human spirit that challenges the brightest star in the sky for transcendence.  The final sequence is an unabashedly life-affirming experience, with the kinds of special effects that only make the human element that much more sacred in its simple existence.

This week in 1969 marks the historic Moon landing, and this week in 2015 it seems mankind may have discovered another planet more similar to Earth than any in this or other solar systems we’ve been able to explore by the technologies currently at our disposal. Perhaps this lyrical and unique film can show us that when we look up in the night sky, whatever apprehension we might feel about the vastness of the Universe should be balanced by a faith in Humanity.

Melancholia is presently streaming on Netflix.

Norma’s Streaming Picks is proud to announce squatters rights on a new site for Baby Boomers, Midcentury/Modern as well as right here on my own site. I invite you to go there for more great content!

YouTube Trailer Courtesy of:

Leave a Reply