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Movie Review: Melancholia

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You should know straight away that I hate Lars Von Trier. Everything I’ve seen of his work so far I have at least disliked and mostly hated, and I find his egotism and pretentiousness in real life (and that which bleeds into his work) irritating to say the least. Just look at his Nazi-defending antics at this year’s Cannes Film Festival as a prime example of why I have a problem with him.

However, I am always willing to give any filmmaker another shot with each new film, even someone I dislike as much as Von Trier. To my surprise I didn’t hate his latest effort, Melancholia – that’s probably the best thing I can say about it from my own personal perspective.

Melancholia movie reviewMelancholia is a rather slow and depressing film, unsurprisingly given the name. True to Von Trier’s distinctive style, he takes his time. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t. The first half of the movie takes place after Kirsten Dunst’s troubled Justine gets married. The ensuing awkward family drama is sometimes interesting, other times it feels needlessly long and drawn out. Perhaps this perfectly captures how this situation would really play out in real life but nonetheless it makes for often frustrating viewing. 

Along with the family drama, Melancholia deals with the possible impending doom of Earth as another planet (the planet of the title) may or may not collide with it. The film actually starts off showing us, after a sequence of shots done in super slow-mo, the two planets colliding before cutting to the start of the family drama. Is this a vision of the inevitable end and we are to take it as “this will happen and there’s nothing you can do about it?” Is it in Dunst’s troubled mind? Or is Von Trier just messing with us? To his credit you are entirely unsure throughout.

What may have allowed me to admire Melancholia’s more interesting aspects is that Von Trier has, for the most part, stopped his standard (infuriating) controversy nonsense. With his previous film, the despicable Antichrist (see my rather scathing review from the EIFF 2009), he seemed to spend the entire movie poking and prodding at the audience, trying everything he could at every turn to push people’s buttons. It’s a cinematic endeavour I find completely pointless and insufferable, and it’s the reason I usually can’t stand Von Trier and his films. But with Melancholia he has almost entirely forgotten his MO and takes the subject matter, and his audience, seriously. In that way Melancholia is the director’s most accesible work to date.

Nonetheless, the film is still vintage self-indulgent Von Trier. For example, he continues to favour a technique he utilized in Antichrist of having shots slowed down to an absolute snail’s place, so slow that it takes, for example, a character 30 seconds to take a single step. And while these moments are gorgeous to look at (despite all else this is one of the most visually stunning films of the year) I fail to see what purpose they serve beyond mere aesthetics.

Regardless of the controversy he draws, Von Trier always manages to get a great cast of actors to act out his strange ideas. Here we have Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg (reteaming with the director after Antichrist), Alexander Skarsgård, Stellan Skarsgård (who are father and son), Kiefer Sutherland, Charlotte Rampling, and John Hurt. All performances are fantastic but it’s Dunst who gets all the heavy-lifting to do, and she was aptly awarded for her brilliant performance with the Best Actress award at Cannes. If you thought being a damsel in distress for Peter Parker was all she could do, think again.

In the end I can’t say I liked Melancholia. It’s more interesting than anything else for me, a piece to be admired from a technical standpoint. And overall I don’t think it adds up to as much as Von Trier maybe thinks it does, a case of being less than the sum of its parts. Von Trier is still as decadent as ever, perhaps even more so because he spends less time trying to annoy his audience and more time wallowing in his various trademarks. But hey, I didn’t come away from this one seething – considering how much I dislike Von Trier, that’s definitely a step in the right direction.


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About Ross Miller

  • Ana

    Actually, aside from the end of world part of the story that most viewers considered a flop -or disturbing to say the least, what haunted me was the girl’s very obvious emotional and health problem. After having really thought it over and with much reflection and research, I realize her true diagnosis which shocked me but made so much sense! She clearly suffered from Kleine-Levin Syndrome, which is a type of sleep disorder that also is connected with her symptoms of not only sleeping and sleeping, but her apathetic behavior towards her bridegroom and others, her odd sexual behavior, and then later her debilitating episodes of not being able to bathe or feed herself normally. It is very sad indeed but put things in better perspective and if only the groom had been educated by her family about her true illness, perhaps he may have been able to overlook her flaws. What is frustrating is watching a beautiful angel like her suffer to that degree simply because of such a devastating illness!!! I believe more awareness should come about this illness and that Von Trier was not being arrogant by having unveiled this work In fact, he may very well be misunderstood as so many often are (whom are ill or have seen loved ones with it). Bravo, sensational work and what a heavy message. Yet in its deep deep drowning sadness, it is a beautiful story indeed.

  • Zan

    I kinda get from a lot of comments on here about Ross’s review that most people really don’t have a lot to say about the film themselves (if they did they would have written a review themselves !!)and would rather pick away at an established writer’s written word. Maybe it’s the Von Trier Fan Club or something.Can please many people but there is always a few who are never pleased.
    As for Stevan’s post( NOTE :comment policy).

  • Stevan

    Dear 13 year old, Von Trier is obviously too hard for your aesthetic sense and thinking. Change ocupation, travel to planet Melancholia and…

  • @Dansker,

    I don’t usually let bias towards a filmmaker creep into my reviews but as I said, I wanted to give my raw and honest reaction to it and what I think of Von Trier in general. If that didn’t come across I apologise.

    Also, I meant no offence to you or anyone else with the Tweet(s).It might have come across wrong in plain text. If you don’t like my review fair enough. I appreciate you taking the time out to read it and comment anyway.

    Again no offense intended.

  • Dansker

    Mr Miller, I was going to say that that’s fair enough – although if you call a piece a review rather than a essay or a rant then you might also have some obligation towards a reader looking for a bigger picture than just your personal reaction. Being able to combine the objective and the subjective is what separates the men from the boys.

    But then I realized that you called me a troll on twitter, which since your piece is almost entirely a bunch of ad hominem insults and characterizations of Lars von Trier based on no supporting evidence, suggests that you don’t understand what trolling means either. So I’ll just wish you good luck with the new Roman Polanski.

  • @Mishell,

    Thanks for the link, nice review. I agree on the visual beauty of the film and how its meticulously crafted, it didn’t resonate with me however. Though it’s good we can all look at the same film and see different things, like and dislike the exact same piece – the most beautiful thing about film.

  • Guys, I didn’t write this review in the same way and with the same aim as I usually do. I thought why be coy about my feelings towards Von Trier? Tried to be up front and honest about my feelings towards him and his movie. It wasn’t my aim to decode and interpret the images, just wanted to give my raw honest feelings about it.

  • Dansker

    Actually most reviews seem to have been fairly positive, but then on the whole they’ve attempted to decode and interpret the images and style, rather than just throw their hands in the air and give up. If Mr Miller had tried to do the same, then this piece would have come closer to perhaps being an actual review. Having opinions, even biases, is one thing; filtering everything about new things through your existing hatred of old things is best left to the Daily Mail.

  • Zan

    If what the critics are showing in their reviews, it seems like Von Trier has been somewhat distracted in his attempts to force his strange views and ideas down the audiences throats and at least making an attempt at letting the film evolve and grow on its own.Will be seeing this very soon (busy, busy).Once again Ross thanks for taking the time to give us your insight into this controversial directors work.

  • babamaal

    What a pointless review. Don’t waste your life. Next time, see a movie that you feel you have something to say about.