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Melancholia - movie review

by Leonard Maltin
November 11, 2011 1:32 AM
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Dunst Skarsgard Sutherland-485

Lest anyone mistake the man who made Antichrist as a purveyor of feel-good entertainment, Lars von Trier has opted for truth in advertising by titling his new film Melancholia. The Danish filmmaker enjoys courting controversy, and some of his films seem deliberately designed to provoke and upset audiences…but he’s also made some fascinating pictures like Breaking the Waves andDogville, so I try to take each movie as it comes without any preconceived notions.

To my mind, Melancholia is both absorbing and absurd. It opens with a visual prologue that turns out to be a précis of the film that is to follow. Kirsten Dunst (who won the Best Actress award at this year’s Cannes Film Festival) plays a beautiful bride who arrives two hours

late for the wedding ceremony her sister, Charlotte Gainsbourg, has painstakingly planned for her and the groom, Alexander Skarsgård. Von Trier disarms us by opening on a note of humor as the couple’s stretch limousine tries to navigate a severely winding road. (This turns out to be the only light moment in the entire picture.) Early or late, Dunst is destined to be unhappy, even on this ostensibly joyous occasion. Why her groom expected anything else from her is just one of the movie’s many unanswered questions.

Lars von Trier's "Melancholia"
Magnolia Pictures Lars von Trier's "Melancholia"

With a nasty mother (Charlotte Rampling), a light-headed father (John Hurt), a domineering boss (Stellan Skarsgård), and a wealthy but imperious brother-in-law (Kiefer Sutherland), the setting is ripe for misery. Add to that one more pesky problem: an obscure planet may be on a collision course with Earth. That prospect suits the bride’s dismal mood to a T. This aspect of the story is explored in the second “chapter” of the narrative, which builds in intensity to a furious climax, set to the strains of Wagner.

Melancholiais fascinating, to a point, but full of frustrating, unexplained behavior by its downhearted cast of characters. I realize that this is a metaphoric tale, but there still ought to be some internal logic. Von Trier orchestrates his twisted story with great skill, and generates considerable dramatic energy, but it’s all sound and fury, signifying nothing.

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  • John Sluggett | January 3, 2014 6:52 PMReply

    Please explain what you mean by, "I realize that this is a metaphoric tale." I haven't seen the movie, so I am curious about this aspect of it.

  • Kiki | March 9, 2012 1:56 AMReply

    The nature of the title "melancholia" kind of is the "internal logic." "Melancholia" was the medical term given to people with inexplicable melancholy. Also, this seems like an interesting nod to Durer's "Melancholia," a print that suggests an apocalyptic tone and sadness.

  • Skysinger | November 20, 2011 9:35 PMReply

    We are trying to drudge through this piece of crap movie that is in love with its own misery, it's own annoying pretentious theme music, and the lead character's depressed boobies. Save your $7.98 from Tivo. Use it to buy some generic antidepressants and send them, with love, to Mister Lars Von Booooring. I'd rather be hit with a planet than have to watch this thing again.

  • wright | November 28, 2011 3:57 PM

    Lucky for you Transformers and Fast Five are on DVD now, huh?

  • diane esterley | November 17, 2011 2:03 AMReply

    As in surreal art, it is not always necessary to make sense, i.e. or a point. This story and it's beauty will stay with you for a while.

  • Virginia Adams O'Connell | November 13, 2011 12:10 PMReply

    I agree with the reviewer--lack of internal logic.

  • Dale Nichols. | November 12, 2011 6:22 AMReply

    more like the "Twilight Zone" I was in awe of the ending, wondering along.....what if? It was slow at times & the dialogue at times were hard to understand, but overall, i liked it....if your're looking for action, don't waste your time. I would recommend this movie only to an adult.

  • Ed Casey | November 11, 2011 7:42 PMReply

    Having heard a great deal about von Trier, finally screened Antichrist and was intrigued by its visual creativity. Ultimately, some scenes were violent and disturbing and I was not able to finish it. Von Trier also made comments about being a Nazi at Cannes. Perhaps its time for film fans to walk away from this unique but possibly mentally unbalanced person. This latest film review gives witness to a person who may need mental treatment rather than an audience.

  • DrMeatwad | January 27, 2012 5:07 AM

    Sheesh, still hate'n on hitler,,, he was the best thing the zionnazis had, and played his part vell for the final show shoah goal. News to you's,,, the shoah required all the dead to be burned to death to qualify as a part of the exile ending events your books claim your god demands. Still looking for a free online copy of this,,, never pay for things online. Von,,, this is normally of jewish background as well as looking the part. All a big show for their wacked out goahls.

  • Norm | November 11, 2011 5:45 PMReply

    O.K., same script, modified, with new plot twist..Dunst on her way to her sisters wedding, becomes possesed , and needs a shot of estrogen, that can only be delivered by defrocked priest Skarsgard, with Sutherland as his CIA bodyguard, but it must be completed in 24 hours or the Earth will collide with all of the Hollywood scripts that are returning to Earth to fulfill their Ultimate Goal, destroy civilization on Earth with their lack of credibility...Rewrite...

  • Signe | November 11, 2011 7:31 AMReply

    For anyone who knows Depression, the film's logic and characters' behavior is sublimely coherent.

  • Rachel | November 15, 2011 1:26 AM

    I agree completely - thank you for saying so.

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