Lars von Trier, Denmark, 2011, 136 min.
I don’t normally give away plot points in my reviews, but the best way to look at Melancholia is to examine the ending.
The film is about a wedding at the end of the world. A rogue planet is coming towards Earth. Will it hit us? No one is really sure, but the wedding goes on as planned.
There are many characters, but the film hinges on three. Kirsten Dunst plays the severely depressed bride, Charlotte Gainsbourg is her strong-willed sister, and Kiefer Sutherland is Charlotte’s rich husband.
The rest of the characters are auxiliary and are there to highlight those three. And what happens at the wedding, which is darkly funny, awkward and depressing, helps us put those three characters into focus.
I would categorize them as the optimist, the pessimist, and the realist. The realist is Dunst’s character, the one with severe depression. Because in von Treir’s world, depression is a real, tangible thing.
When the end of the world is eminent, they react in different ways. The pessimist, who was sure the planet was going to hit the Earth, breaks down and rails against the situation. The optimist, who believed the planet would pass them by, gives up and commits suicide. The only one who handles the situation with any dignity or grace is the realist.
Von Trier and Dunst have suffered through depression in real life, and together they create a sense of what that must be like. The symptoms, both mental and physical, are somehow larger than life. As large as an awesome, unavoidable catastrophe that is coming to end… well, everything. What I believe the film says, is that the only way to true happiness is to accept the fact that you and all humanity will die, and that an empty life-less universe will be all that is left.