poster for melancholia

Best Actress Winner: Kirsten Dunst

Two sisters find their already strained relationship challenged as a mysterious new planet threatens to collide into the Earth.

A film that from the trailer and synopsis alone has had many people very intrigued, and it ended up having a very good showing at Cannes, taking home the best actress award from Kirsten Dunst [Spider Man, Bring It On] and writer director Lars von Trier [Dogville, Breaking the Waves] was also nominated for the Palme d’Or. All of that combined with the list of the cast should be enough to intrigue any general movie-goer.

The film starts with a charmingly dark and troubling opening sequence of extreme slow-mo shots of what we assume to be the nearing of the new planet to Earth, with weird electricity shooting out of fingers and some outer-space views of the ever closer growing planets. You also see something very specific happen, but I won’t spoil it. I’ll just say that it is very telling of things to come. At least, not yet.

We then get into the story. Justine [Dunst] and Michael [Alexander Skarsgård] have just been married, and are having an expensive reception at a massive golf course estate, owned by Justine’s sister and husband. The entire family is fighting throughout with their own pasts and problems. Justine’s sister Claire [Charlotte Gainsbourg], the maid of honor-type trying to make the plans go along smoothly, their mother Gaby [Charlotte Rampling] reflecting all of her marriage problems onto everyone else, while Claire’s husband John [Keifer Sutherland] pays for it all. Everyone is suspicious and/or frustrated with Justine’s second thoughts. John Hurt plays Justine’s father Dexter, and Stellan Skarsgård as her boss. 

The events unravel, and Justine becomes depressed. All the while, a certain red star in the sky is noticed, and we learn bits and pieces about a planet called Melancholia that has been hidden behind the sun that is supposed to pass by the Earth. Claire is frightened that it could collide with Earth, and John, who has some sort of astronomy background, tells her of it’s passing Mercury and Venus without hitting, and assures her that it will not hit Earth. They can see it growing nearer in the sky every day, and Justine gets worse along with it. Random snowfalls, horses behaving strangely, John gathering supplies; the planet’s passing is clearly affecting many things on Earth.

The time grows closer to the point of the passing, and Justine is in a state of calm, speaking of things she says she knows, like that there is no life anywhere else in the universe. The night finally comes, when Melancholia rises over the horizon at an incredibly close distance, it’s passing rumbling and powerful. It turns out that John wasn’t as sure as he said when assuring Claire that the planet would pass at a safe distance. The air literally gets hard to breathe due to atmospheric effects, but they find that the planet is fading away.

Later that day, however, Claire looks again, only to see the planet is now getting closer. Justine notes that the horses have calmed.

This is where I tell you how the movie ends. It’s not necessary to read the next paragraph, and I will continue on as planned after it, without spoilers.


Claire looks for John to ask him what about it, and she finds that he has taken the suicide pills that Claire had previously bought in her state of paranoia and fear. Claire tries to flee the estate to go to the village, only to find that cars do not start. She starts off in a golf cart with her son, a pouring rain having developed, but does not make it far into the golf course, where the rain turns to hail. Justine stays behind, waiting outside in a serene state, seemingly accepting the coming fate. Claire returns and puts her son back to bed. Justine shoots down Claire’s request of ending it in some sort of peaceful manner. Justine continues outside where she finds Claire’s son, who says he’s afraid that the planet will hit Earth. She tells him that they can build a magic cave and be protected, and they continue into the nearby woods to gather sticks to build it. You see bugs and worms crawling out of the ground in the footsteps they leave behind. They build a small fort out of sticks, and Claire, her son and Justine all sit inside and wait, eyes closed, holding hands. The planet radiates a strong blue light, powerful winds start to blow, and we are given a straight away shot of Melancholia colliding into Earth.


Although I don’t think Dunst will win any other awards for her performance in this movie, her’s and Gainsbourg’s really are very true and worthy of praise. I just don’t think that there is enough air time for either of them to really win anything for it. The fellow cast also do great.

Trier delivers to us in Melancholia an apocalypse, but in an elegant and almost peaceful manner. The whole look and feel throughout the movie is not telling of such a conclusion, yet the end doesn’t really surprise or upset you. It is quite the combination of actual story and presentation of it. The visuals really are quite stunning as well, both the cinematography and the added in effects of the planet.

My Rating:

 3.0/4.0 – With an awesome all around cast, lead by great performances from Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg, Lars von Trier delivers to us in Melancholia an apocalypse, but in an elegant and almost peaceful manner.


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