The last couple of years haven’t exactly been the most understated for Lars Von Trier, director of ‘Melancholia’. With his last film ‘Antichrist’ deemed controversial over its graphic violence against the female protagonist, and his awkward, soon retracted, comments at the Cannes film festival this year, ‘Melancholia’ arrives at a time when recent scandals could overshadow his work. This shouldn’t be the case with ‘Melancholia’, as, on its own merit, it is a masterful and radical reimagining of the modern disaster movie.
‘Melancholia’ concerns itself with the cosmic unsheathing of a rogue planet from behind the sun that is drawn dangerously close to Earth’s orbit, and the power it holds on a small, isolated, family unit suffering through various states of mental deterioration. The film was originally conceived during a depressive period for Von Trier, and a discovery on his part that those suffering from depression are able to stay calm in stressful situations. It’s this notion that Von Trier fully fleshes out to produce a tale which is utterly affecting.
Kirsten Dunst’s performance as the cripplingly depressed Justine is simultaneously spectacular and saddening, as she conveys expertly how depression can completely ruin someone’s basic routine and day to day life. Therefore, as was the case with Stanley Kramer’s nihilistic ‘On The Beach’, ‘Melancholia’ determinedly and brilliantly presents the ways in which a small group of questionably stable minds perceive oncoming crisises – whether it be through anxiety, apathy or naive infatuation.
While ‘Melancholia’ is, as the label says, hardly the happiest yarn of recent times, it is nevertheless a beautiful one. Instead of the usual suffocating amount of technical gimmicks seen in most other disaster movies, ‘Melancholia’ instead uses Von Trier’s trustworthy techniques and focused use of special effects to create something truly wondrous.
As was the case with ‘Antichrist’, dramatic lighting and slow motion paint the planet’s ultimate freak weather, and electrical storms fully exude a mesmerising hyper reality. ‘Melancholia’ is a rich and masterful production that triumphs through its beautiful yet modest cinematography and outstanding performances to deliver a novel and extremely well polished take on the bloated disaster movie genre. In essence, we need more grandiose concepts not being limited by miniscule production budgets and values, or having to turn themselves into mindless mush in order to sell. ‘Melancholia’ is just that.