A gorgeous depiction of despair and depression, Melancholia’s approach to the most basic human instincts is both unique and inspired. Even while using a science fiction premise, von Trier’s epic doesn’t pretend to be a real-life scenario of how earth goes down. Rather, the approach of the potentially life-ending planet is yet another minefield this one highly complicated family must navigate. With each character offering a vastly different emotional crutch for the other, the impending doom challenges them to surprising results. And visually, the film is exquisite…

The Players:

The Plot:

An already troubled family faces the potential for the end of the world as the planet Melancholia nears earth.

The Good:

  • It’s All Like A Dream: Melancholia is visually stunning. Von Trier takes pains to make each scene like a moving painting. The first several minutes are entirely without dialogue while the story of the film is played out from beginning to end in epic slow motion fashion using minimum exposition. The intro is so unique it could be a successful short film in its own right. With disaster imminent, Melancholia highlights the beauty of life on earth as we know it without once feeling dogmatic. 
  • Kirsten Dunst: There are two pillars of focus in Melancholia. Dunst’s character, Justine, is the embodiment of depression for the film. Dunst is thoroughly convincing as the struggling newlywed that feigns happiness for a few moments simply to please her sister. Her performance is brave and subtle. There are no lengthy speeches about her mental illness. Dunst takes us through it – through the heaviness, through the disillusionment, through the apathy. The buzz around Dunst’s performance is well deserved.
  • Charlotte Gainsbourg: The other pillar, Claire (Gainsbourgh), is the embodiment of caring in Melancholia. As Justine’s sister, she is supportive to her own detriment. She mothers her younger sister without asking for anything in return. In the beginning of the film, Claire appears to be controlling but over time we learn that she wants the best for Justine and has to force her to try to want the best for herself. Theirs is a nuanced relationship. Gainsbourgh interprets the character beautifully. The sisters’ relationship is also a testament to von Trier’s uncanny ability to accurately write women’s characters.
  • The Wedding Planner: Udo Kier as the wedding planner provides some occasional but much needed levity at Justine and Michael’s (Alexander Skarsgard) wedding reception. His looks of disgust that Justine would sabotage his masterpiece are priceless.

The So So:

  • Jack Bauer: Kiefer Sutherland’s performance as Claire’s wealthy husband, John, is quite average in comparison to Gainsbourgh and Dunst. John is the financial provider and the apparent core of strength during the crumbling wedding and impending disaster. He should seem confident and trustworthy. Instead, Sutherland plays him as constantly exasperated and out of breath. This is not entirely out of character for John but didn’t seem like a stretch from 24’s Jack Bauer.

The Bad:

The Cannes Debacle: I hope viewers will get past von Trier’s Nazi sympathizing comments at Cannes and watch this film. It’s too beautiful to dismiss and the actors shouldn’t be punished for the director’s poor taste.


This film is unlike any film in the recent and distant past. But for the end-of-the-world as a backdrop for this personal reflection on family, relationships, and mental illness, there is little else to liken Melancholia to any other picture. It is positively dreamlike.

Rating: 9/10

Melancholia hits theaters November 11.

Melancholia Trailer