This is one of those films that you watch in spite of yourself. The reviews I have read were not particularly good but I picked up from one that it was a “difficult” film. I like a challenge.
Directed by Lars von Trier and starring Kirsten Dunst, Alexander Skarsgard, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kiefer Sutherland, John Hurt and Charlotte Rampling I found this film visually stunning, I loved the the hand held documentary camera style of the film. The director of photography explained that it was Von Trier’s style to let the camera “know” nothing and that it should react to the actors. The first take of any scene would be shot in this way, then the director would make adjustment to the next take.
I watched the film and made notes about what I thought it was about before watching the “extras” section of the DVD. It actually wasn’t that difficult to understand. The title sequence was a sort of overture with the prelude to Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde played against stylish, enigmatic slow motion clips of the coming story.
The narrative was in two parts. In the first, Justine and Michael are celebrating their wedding at the home of Justine’s sister Claire and her husband John. It soon becomes apparent that Justine is depressed and the the whole party self destructs in no part helped by Justine’s dotty father vindictive mother and overbearing boss. All this, despite Claire’s attempts to protect and care for Justine.
In the second part, Justine’s depressed state is reinforced as Claire attempts to help her function on a daily basis. Meanwhile, the giant planet Melancholia is heading towards earth at 60,000 miles an hour. There is an implication that the approaching planet and Justine’s depression are somehow linked as her behaviour becomes noticeably bizarre.
John tries to protect his wife and son from the knowledge of the inevitable disaster but as it becomes apparent that the world is about to end, the sisters’ roles change as Justine accepts the inevitable and protects and cares for Claire and her son during the final moments and the destruction of the planet, the CGI sequence of which is quite brilliant and not a little frightening if you can bear to think of the reality of two planets colliding. (Astrophysicists were consulted in the making of the CGI sequence so it has the hard edge of a “realistic” scenario)
I always enjoy the “making of” sections of DVDs and have included some screen shots below with my notes.
The style of the two halves of the film were distinct from one another, the first being shot with predominantly warm orange and yellow light, the other with cool blue colours to emphasise the change in mood as the disaster looms. Here, Claire pleads with Justine to pull herself together and avoid any scenes that may spoil the party. At this stage, Claire is very much the dominant sister trying to keep Justine safe in spite of her depressed state.
This shot is an almost “Lynch” like moment as the flag on green proclaims the 19th hole even though several references had been made earlier to the 18 hole golf course at the house. Only hours from disaster, the earths atmosphere is thinning and there is a hailstorm and St Elmo’s fire on the power lines. Clair is desperately trying to find safety for herself and her son. You can interpret the reference in several ways.
Having failed to reach the village, Claire pleads with Justine to stay with her and Leo at the end. Justine agrees and takes Leo with her to make a “magic cave”. Leo knows that Justine (Aunt Steelbreaker) will protect her and calmly helps her build a tepee of sticks.
I’m not sure if the two round finials at right of this frame are intentionally placed but their reference is unmistakable.
At the conclusion of the film, the three remaining characters await their fate. Justine and Leo (calm and trusting that his aunt has made him safe) are resigned but Claire remains agitated until the end.
Melancholia rapidly approaches the Earth in a spectacular crescendo of music blended with that rumble/crackle much used by film makers. Throughout this final sequence Claire remains fearful and she almost instinctively runs.
At the firestorm approaches the camera the deafening roar drowns the music and fades to silence on a black screen for several seconds before the credits roll, in silence initially and then with Wagner's theme once again. This is a good example of diegetic and non-diegetic sound being used together for dramatic effect.