By Le Anne Lindsay
If I owned an incredibly elegant, picturesque, stately castle with an 18 hole golf course and stable full of horses, I too would be sad and scared to see the end of the world, because you gotta figure life on the other side might not be as good.
In writer/director Lars von Trier’s film, Melancholia is a planet that has been hiding behind the sun for eons and has suddenly made its appearance known as it starts traveling through the galaxy. During its rotation, it has come close, but not hit other planets in the solar system. Therefore, the scientists on earth predict Melancholia passing by the earth will be an incredible site to witness and presents no danger of collision.
All this is going on in the background while we are brought into the lives of a young couple on their wedding day. Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Michael (Alexander Skarsgård) are in a limo heading to their reception, which takes place at the previously mentioned mansion/resort, owned by the bride’s sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and her husband John (Kiefer Sutherland). Other than being late to the reception because the white stretch limo can’t make the bend in the road that leads to the stately grounds, all seems well with the couple, until we witness awkward, hostile toasts from both Justine’s mother (Charlotte Rampling) and father (John Hurt). Then Claire takes Justine aside and warns her to keep it together, a warning that does no good as the bride’s erratic behavior deteriorates so much that her newly wed husband leaves her before the honeymoon begins.
It all sounds wonderfully dramatic and soap opera like, but it isn’t. The scenes are rather moody and distant. You’re watching the action from afar and the pace is so slow, action doesn’t seem an appropriate word. The film is structured in three acts. The first part a preamble — long, slow motion foreshadowing, very similar to the beginning of Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life (links to T & T commentary). The second part is from the perspective of Justine, the bride, suffering from depression, which she describes as trudging through gray yarn weighing down her steps. The third part is told from the perspective of Claire as a wife, mother, caretaker to her sister and the only one worried about the possibility of Melancholia hitting the earth.
Despite the slow pacing, Melancholia is interesting. I had a fun time discussing the film with a group of people in the lobby of the Prince after the screening. None of them were willing to do a video review, because it’s a movie that you leave the theater not quite knowing how you feel about it. There’s a lot of unanswered questions, some having to do with plot points, others having to do with the psychology of the film, like is Justine’s illness due to a metaphysical connection to the planet Melancholia? And other minor points like, why is everyone in Justine’s family British except Justine?
The best part of the film for me was the incredibly sweeping, colossal score, aptly entitled End of the World by Tristan and Isolde. I feel lucky to have been able to see this movie in a theater with an awesome sound system. The opus rumbled throughout my body and almost transported me to another place and time.
To see the full Philadelphia Film Festival line-up, check out our Online Program Guide.
Le Anne Lindsay is a PFS Blog contributor. For more of her work, visit Tinsel & Tine.
Trackback from your site.