I've only ever seen 3 things from Lars von Trier prior to this. First was the television mini-series Kingdom Hospital, which I enjoyed from what I remember, but never realized was a von Trier production. Second was Dancer in the Dark, which--against popular opinion--I couldn't stand. Then there was Antichrist, which despite seeing at least a year or so ago, I still feel like I need a shower just thinking about it. Needless to say, I didn't care for it (understatement). So when I came across Melancholia, I was a bit hesitant to say the least. On the one hand, it has a sci-fi element where a new planet is on a collision course with Earth; on the other hand, it's all about depression and being all insane and whatnot. So what did I think?
First let's look at the plot. We have newlyweds Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Michael (Alexander Skarsgard) who arrive to their wedding reception. Justine tries to have a good time, but it's all a facade as she hides the sadness and/or apathy within. She also notices a strange star in the distant sky. This lasts an hour. The second hour follows Justine's sister, Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and her husband, John (Kiefer Sutherland). He's studying a new planet called Melancholia (the aforementioned 'star' that Justine saw) that is heading toward Earth and assures her they're going to be safe, but Claire is going out of her mind with fear that they're all going to die.
At a little over two hours, that doesn't seem to be enough plot to fill its length. And sure, it probably could have been cut down (particularly Justine's half of the story). But yeah, I know, it's all character studies and symbolism and everything. But could von Trier at least have been a little more subtle? Justine is obviously suffering from extreme depression and they name the planet Melancholia? And she basks in its light? Etc. Etc. And it's never clear if there's anything she's actually depressed about or if it's just a chemical thing. I had a theory that she's down and out because she's the only person in her family without a British accent. Poor Justine.
There are two great things about the film, though. The first is the acting. Everybody is on their game in this film, but you have to give definite props to Kirsten Dunst in what is probably one of the finest performances of her career. And thank God everybody is so good because otherwise this film wouldn't have worked at all.
The second thing great is the visuals. The film starts off with 8 minutes of super, ultra slo-mo in very sharp picture, something he also did in Antichrist. Yeah, it's a bit much and drags like no other, but at least it looks good and is kind of trippy at times. And then all the planet stuff in the second half looks phenomenal. The cinematography in general is pretty dang good.
Overall, this is not a film for everyone. It's one of those "it's very well made, but... I probably won't ever watch it again" kinda films. It wasn't made for entertainment purposes. It was made as an art piece. It was made to be dissected and discussed (despite its lack of subtlety). But really, there's only one striking thing I'd like to talk about if you've seen it... and it's kind of a blink and you'll miss it moment. They make note early on in the film that there are only 18 holes on this golf course. At the end, she walks by a flag that says "19." I wonder what that means. Anyway, that's all I have for this. If you're a von Trier fan, I suppose you'll like this if you haven't seen it already. If you like more artistic or thoughtful films, you'll dig it. But if you like your movies for entertainment purposes only, I'd steer clear.