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  • Writer's pictureJames Rutherford

'Melancholia': Lars Von Trier's Visceral and Exhilarating Depiction of the Coming Apocalypse

Movie poster for the 2011 film Melancholia

Melancholia (2011) is a visceral and thought-provoking drama starring Kirsten Dunst as Justine, a young woman beset by periods of profound depression. Preparing to wed Michael (Alexander Skarsgård) in a rural castle owned by her brother-in-law John (Kiefer Sutherland) and sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg), Justine is distressed by reports of the planet "Melancholia" as it prepares to collide with Earth.

Prior to this discovery, the wedding festivities ensue to both fanfare and histrionics, as various family members squabble and Justine's employer Jack (Stellan Skarsgård) urges her to complete a new advertising slogan for an important client. As her growing anxiety evolves into a full-scale depressive episode, Justine reacts with marked dismay as the Earth's impending destruction becomes apparent. Yet her increasing desire to embrace annihilation ultimately elicits an unexpected sense of serenity—contrasted dramatically with that of Claire who grows progressively more distraught as global cataclysm draws near.

Written and directed by Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier (Dancer in the Dark, Dogville), Melancholia is a thoughtful depiction of depression, particularly in the contrast between the two sisters' disparate reactions to impending doom. Dunst steals the show with her humanistic depiction of a desolate soul facing overwhelming confirmation of her own worst fears—Von Trier having crafted a grand visual representation of her despair and eventual surrender. The 2nd installment in Von Trier's "Depression Trilogy" (following Antichrist and preceding Nymphomaniac), Melancholia is a galvanizing brew of dark humor, apprehension and radical actualization that ultimately serves as one of von Trier's finest career accomplishments.


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