Melancholia (2011)

Melancholia (2011)
Melancholia (2011) DVD / Blu-ray

By: Billy Arceneaux (A Toast) –

It’s well documented that director Lars Von Trier suffers from anxiety and depression. From his crippling fear of flight to his unusual public statements (which he will no longer make), his problems must make it difficult for him to make movies. Instead of medicating with talk and pills, however, Lars grabs a camera and exposes himself (and the world) to his deepest issues.

His new film Melancholia tells the story of two sisters, Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg), as they face their own versions of doom and gloom head on. For Justine, it’s a lingering depression and worry that her new marriage is bound to fail. For Claire, it’s the anxiety and worry that Earth and everyone on it will be destroyed by a newly discovered planet (the title of the movie). We know from the beginning that all WILL be destroyed, but how will the sisters deal with it?

Also, all that Lars von Trier-ness?

A Toast

For those who haven’t googled it, Melancholia is a state of mood disorder and/or depression. Giving a life-destroying planet this name might be a little too on the nose, but considering what all goes down, it’s apt.

In part one of the film, we witness Justine as being whimsical and carefree on her wedding night. Throughout the evening, however, it becomes clear that a mood swing is coming; her divorced parents bicker publicly, her boss is an asshole, her sister is controlling, and all demand that she be happy, almost against her will. The weight of all the stress and expectations becomes so much for Justine that she begins to have a bi-polar episode, and the night ends in disaster.

In part two, we see Claire taking care of her severely depressed sister, while also dealing with the discovery of a new planet that is hurtling towards Earth. Despite reassurances to the contrary, she can’t shake the fear of everything coming to an end, and being unable to prevent/control it. The weight of all of her stress becomes so great for her, she is stricken with breathless panic attacks (also explained as the result of the planet sucking air from our atmosphere), feelings of helplessness, and the story ends, again, in disaster.

What I have described above is pretty bleak. So bleak, actually, that even the sisters’ spouses couldn’t take it. But in the midst of chaos, there is calm. As Melancholia nears, Justine snaps somewhat out of her funk, at least enough to deal with the situation her own way; by confronting it. She even bathes in the light of the planet at night, showing how used to it all she is. I guess complete and utter destruction is nothing to a person who has been to emotional hell and back.

Go somewhere else for easy therapy

The film is spectacular. In the hands of any other director, it would be filled with shots of riots, news anchors, and Bruce Willis. Instead, Earth’s disaster is framed around the story of two sisters, who represent not only depression and anxiety, but also how we deal with crisis. In the end, its’ good old fashioned exposure therapy, confronting/embracing the problem/planet head on, that brings about some level of peace and beauty.


Watch it however you can, but I recommend this be viewed as part of a double feature with AntiChrist. Both films came about out of a deep depression the director suffered, both deal with themes of anxiety, depression and exposure therapy (both perfectly capture what it feels like), and both feature characters proclaiming the Earth to be evil. If you want to try and pick these apart, they might be best confronted, head on, together.

Fun for the whole family!

Bonus Drinking Game

Take a Drink: whenever someone is disappointed in Justine.

Take a Drink: for each time Claire’s husband tries to reassure her.

Drink a Shot: because Earth is going down, no matter what.

About Bill Arceneaux

Independent film critic from New Orleans and member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association (SEFCA).

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