I have decided that I will keep reviewing the apocalypse after yesterday’s Seeking a Friend for the End of the World and will today turn to Melancholia. Although they deal with the apocalypse very differently, there is a similarity in that they both approach it rather unconventionally and focus on the much smaller picture. Melancholia is a difficult film; it has proved difficult to review, it is difficult to describe, and for some it is difficult to sit through. I’ll say it now; this is a very, very slow film. It opens with a series of intriguing shots of the principle cast, so slowed down that you almost have to check to see if they are actually moving. These are mixed in with clips of the Earth colliding with another planet, named Melancholia. Despite the inherently epic nature of this opening, this is not for someone who wants to see a film about the end of times but is first and foremost one for those interested in melancholia.
This film takes Justine’s (Kirsten Dunst) melancholia/depression and smothers the entire film with it. There are characters with energy but they are either pushed out of the film or filtered through her perception and this makes for an experience but not a comfortable one. I would guess that it represents something of the feeling of melancholy/depression but being lucky enough to have not experienced these, I can only speculate. However close it actually gets to representing them, this film certainly involves you in some sort of overpowering feeling which is really effective, if you are prepared for it. On the flip side, many people would say that it is boring and it is easy to see why they would say so; a lot of the time it feels as if it is drifting towards nowhere and taking its time as it does it. It’s ultimately a personal reaction to the film; some people will be intrigued, others will fall asleep.
In addition to the slow pacing, the shaky handheld camera style will also put of a lot of people off. In the interviews on the DVD director Lars von Trier explained that he used this technique because he didn’t want the actors to know exactly where the camera was, he would have the camera man adapting to the performance in real time. This seems justifiable enough, however it certainly will distract many viewers and ultimately doesn’t bring much to the film. In this film’s favour however, the acting is excellent; Kirsten Dunst gives a great performance but her co-star Charlotte Gainsbourg deserves praise too; playing the more relatable character, she very believably provides the emotional, more human response to events.
The opening minutes and the film’s premise holds the apocalyptic threat in your head throughout the first chapter and so when you finally get round to the second half, which focuses heavily on the approaching planet, it doesn’t feel as if it has just popped up out of nowhere. As I have already said; the film is more focused towards Justine’s melancholia rather than Melancholia the planet. There are several moments where you have to disregard science during this film, which is a shame because the film takes so long over everything that they would have had time to do things correctly. Despite the grievances I have with the film due to its scientific inaccuracies, its documentary camera style and for being maybe just a bit too slow, it is still worth seeing. Watch it for the performances, and not just Dunst’s which deserves its acclaim but unfortunately has tended to overshadow other reviews. Melancholia lingered in my memory long after the credits rolled, and for the right reasons. It is certainly not for everyone and it is flawed, but despite that it does seem to resonate with a certain grandiose power.