a deeply depressed young woman has her wedding on the night of the discovery of a rogue planet called melancholia set on a collision course with earth. the young woman, justine, is played by the luminous kirsten dunst. her sister, claire, is played by charlotte gainsbourg. this is a tale of two sisters at the end of the earth.
do i lose my film critic card when i say this is the first lars von trier movie i've seen? the first half of his flick, shot mainly with hand-held cameras, is about justine and her illness justine is not an easy person to like. in fact, this movie is filled with unlikable characters. the pace is slow which is meant to emphasize life in an english manor house where the wedding ceremony is held. justine falls deeper into the well of despair until i could barely stand her.
the second half picks up steam. it is about claire and her life in the english manor house. she is a mother to a young son and is married to the filthy rich john played by keifer sutherland. john is an amateur scientist and is confident that melancholia will pass by earth with little ill effect.
justine knows differently. she says so to claire. justine just 'knows things' like the knowledge we are alone in the universe, and the number of beans in a bottle used for a guess the number of beans in a wedding party contest. justine is correct about the latter. is she right about the former?
as melancholia gets closer to earth justine's depression marries the catastrophe of earthly destruction. she becomes calmer, more self-assured. claire begins to freak out. who would blame claire. john abandons his family by suicide when he calculates the rogue planet will collide with earth.
the two sisters love and hate each other. justine's depression is so severe she can barely walk and bathe herself. claire's devotion to justine is matched by justine's scorn for claire's fear of death for herself and her son. von trier composes some beautiful images. justine nude bath by the light of melancholia at night. the opening scene of birds falling from the sky as justine raises her hands with lightning shooting from her fingers. but the tone of the film was so freaking quiet and grim i had to punch myself awake.
another thing. von trier gets the science so wrong in this movie. there was a large lake beside the manor. when melancholia drew closer to earth i expected to see the lake broiled in huge waves from the rogue planet's gravity. also, the earth's crust would crack open with major volcanic activity. earth might be knocked from orbit when melancholia did its first flyby. we would be long dead before the planet hit. if melancholia got so close as to 'take a little of our atmosphere' the gravitational forces would be so severe life would be snuffed out even if melancholia missed the earth.
i had to remind myself, 'it's only a movie, only a movie' and give in to the storytelling. which is okay. both justine and claire, and their family, are quite unlikable people. i suppose that is lar von trier's point, because in the words of justine, 'life on earth is evil'. maybe. justine said something that i totally agree with, 'the universe won't miss us.' but that knowledge doesn't give me despair. it feels me with light for life is brief but charged with the meanings we make. life is valued not for its permanence but for its evanescence. perhaps that is justine's message after all.