Melancholia (2011): Is it a drama, is it a sci fi, is it a study in psychological depression? One thing is certain, it is a film by Lars von Trier. The studied authorial eye is as beady and detailed as always, as is his drive to subordinate art to a philosophical thesis. Imagine landscape gardening by Capability Brown, aerial shots of country lanes with magnificent galloping horses, mists, a stately pile and the most appalling nouveau riche wedding you might ever encounter and you have the setting. Counterpoise this with a bride’s disintegration into depressive aimlessness and involuntary bursts of escapism and cap it all with the impending arrival inside  Earth’s gravitational field, of a rogue planet, once hiding behind the sun and you have the ingredients of maybe the best von Trier film. Whether you read it as a treatise in individual human fragility in the face of a harsh and pointless existence or an entire race’s collapse in the face of an externally imposed, insuperable finality, the effect is the same. It is disturbing to watch as you realize that Kersten Dunst’s character is not an irritating, self-advertising, selfish melancholic so much as someone’s response to having a clairvoyant’s understanding of impending disaster – so where is the meaning in marriage, above all else?

The film contains one of the most wonderfully constructed scenes in cinema. The approaching planet – the Melancholia of the title – begins to fill the entire horizon. Dunst’s character, until now a black hole of emotion which those around her have tried perpetually and unsuccessfully to fill, takes charge and comforts her sister and her nephew, the only ones remaining in the house with her. She has them build and occupy a magical defence against cosmic annihilation, a skeletal pyramid of sticks. Huddled inside, their hands clasped, they draw succour from Dunst’s nihilistic preparedness to face whatever might come.


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