Film Review: Melancholia (2011)

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In 2011 I was invited by ABC Local Radio to provide a web review of Lars von Trier’s Melancholia (2011) when it was screened as part of the 2011 Canberra International Film Festival. I’ve reposted it here as a backdrop to my review of Another Earth (2011).

There is a sense that Melancholia is artfully crafted as it goes about exploring the emotional state of its characters as they – and the whole of humanity – face cataclysmic extinction. This is not meant to be a happy film. Yet given the grand exploration of emotions within its highly contextualised setting, Melancholia fails to get into the hearts of its audience.

In the first 20 minutes the film seems full of promise. Alongside dramatic opening music, controversial and experimental director Lars Von Trier uses some unexpected cinematic techniques. The film then moves into a wedding sequence. The bride, played by Kirsten Dunst, is behaving strangely. This is intriguing.

It’s a downward slide from there. The narrative descends into four people waiting in a big house for the arrival of the planet Melancholia, which is rapidly heading towards earth. It quickly gets boring.

The relationships in the film were unconvincing and at times ridiculous.

Everyone seems to be raving about Kirstin Dunst’s performance as Justine. It was solid and demonstrated a range not evident in her previous work. However, it was hardly nuanced as her emotional state moved from depression to cynicism and finally to acceptance.

Charlotte Gainsbourg’s depiction of Justine’s sister, Claire, was much more effective and provided the only real emotional backbone to the film.

It was pretty to watch. But we were hanging out for that collision by the end!

Some couldn’t wait, about 15 people left part-way through.


Reviewed by Don Gomez and Ginger Gorman for ABC Canberra

About the author

Don Gomez maintains Science By Fiction and is undertaking a masters degree in science communication at the Australian National University’s Centre for Public Awareness of Science. Donnie loves a good yarn and is interested in the depiction of science in popular fiction.

Follow Don on Twitter @hairycanary

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