The absence of flaw in beauty is itself, a flaw – Havelock Ellis
Getting married was supposed to be the happiest moment of her life but Justine (Kirsten Dunst) isn’t happy. Her groom Michael (Alexander Skarsgård) and sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) are happy for her and doing all they can to make her happy. What made matters worse, Justine and Claire’s mother, Gaby, (Charlotte Rampling) made a depressing toast during the wedding. She despises the marriage and is tremendously disappointed about just being there.
Von Trier’s Melancholia follows a visually stimulating cinematic theme and, unfortunately, it’s a hard film to put together. All the film’s effort is focused just on the movie looking pretty while it’s characters simmered in the background. It is as if you are forced to detect the minute aspects of the story without any supporting information as to what was the cause of Justine’s depression. The film is divided into two acts; the first half focuses on Justine, newlywed and confused about her decision to be married.
Melancholia is a stunningly visual film especially in the beginning. The slow motion images of Dunst’s character, Justine, running away from something or someone in her wedding dress; and still images of her sister and her son in picaresque poses in an effort to get a sense of Justine’s melancholic mood and for her half of the film, it proceeded in this manner.
The events that surround Justine are depicted in a gloomy occupation. She wanders about this elaborate estate in a solemn while her groom and sister are left entertaining their guest. In the second act of the film, Claire is portrayed in a different light. She always does everything possible to comfort her sister, much to the chagrin of her husband, John (Kiefer Sutherland) and her son. She is stable, kind, and forgiving, but when the planet “melancholia” approaches, the emotional situations begin to change.
The planet is on a crash course to earth and the complicated differences between the two sisters dramatically begin to change. Justine, the socially repressive bride, seems hopeful that the planet will collide, destroying all life on earth. She bathes naked in the luminescent light of the earth, she starts eating, and she, for the first time in her life, is hopeful. Claire, on the other hand, becomes unraveled. She loses all sense of self and worries about her son and husband, her home, and family. She is in disbelief that Justine is calm and collected under the extreme circumstances.
I’ve come to the conclusion that it only matters when visuals are the only things needed to make any film worth watching. Scratch that. Visuals only work when a film has a cohesive storyline to accompany it, and without a decent story, it just doesn’t work for big feature films. Overall, Melancholia isn’t without its revelations. The world is ending, but, it is the specific dynamics–the interplay between Justine and Claire; Dunst and Gainsbourg– are performances that’re worth noting. Sure, you can be content with visuals alone if it is to be the only intent for the film.
But what of the story? Depressing. Another Earth also featured an oncoming planet with a melancholy cast of characters–its ambiguity in with the story is also where the film suffered. Both films focus are in an applied premise that never seemed to make the mark. It would be different if Melancholia were like the insect documentary Microcosmos on the Discovery channel, where the visuals are the story. I do, however, want to state that I love the look and slow “apocalyptic melancholy” of Melancholia. I just wanted there to be something more in the way of character development and dialogue.
I could be wrong.