A psychological disaster movie that makes the end of the world look beautiful.

The Story:

The end of the world is coming. You’re witnessing the planet Melancholia slowly make its way towards Earth, knowing collision is going to happen. Yet through all of the fear this catastrophic event brings, you remain calm and curious. Melancholia demonstrates that amidst our impending doom, there is still beauty to be seen, it can help keep us calm and collected. Well, that and being depressed.

Lars von Trier was influenced to make this film after a depressive episode he experienced. So why would anybody want to watch a daunting film that revolves closely around depression and doomsday? Because sometimes it’s nice to escape the sappy bullshit we sometimes kid ourselves with. And with the help of cinematographer Manuel Alberto Claro, von Trier successfully exposed a common issue and fear among people in the most beautiful and poetic way possible.

The Art:

Symbolism floods the screen throughout various scenes in Melancholia. The most recognizable reference is to Ophelia, a fictional character in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. In the story Ophelia climbed out of her window and onto a willow tree, which dropped her into a brook where she drowned. It was stated that Ophelia was incapable of her own distress. Much like Ophelia, Justine (Kirsten Dunst) cannot handle the pressures her wedding day has brought and seems impossible to cheer up. A shot of Justine lying in a river in her wedding dress reverts back to the original image of Ophelia drowning in her brook. Another scene that stands out is a shot where Justine is struggling to walk through an open field in her wedding dress, being held back by roots coming from the ground. It’s as if it was a glimpse into her mind and we see how she really feels about marriage.

In the last scene of the movie, Justine sits with her sister and nephew underneath a tepee made out of dainty branches. You see Melancholia behind them, approaching Earth’s hemisphere. Not only is this shot gorgeous and photographic, but really makes you think about the symbolism. Knowing the world is about to end, they still find a little bit of comfort in sitting underneath this makeshift shelter. It’s not going to protect them and they know it, but it provides them with that needed element to get through those final moments. Justine even sits with her back towards the oncoming planet, knowing it’s coming, but also knowing there’s nothing she can do to stop it. I can see that tie in easily with her depression. It’s an illness that she knows she deals with, but rather than put effort into helping it, she let’s it steer the course of her emotions while she sits in the passenger seat.

The colors and lighting of this film fit nicely with the melancholy theme, soft and subdued. There are moments where we seem to be inside the mind of Justine, in which the lighting becomes a little more dramatic and the colors are a little more bold. Manuel Albert Claro did a fantastic job framing each scene to really captivate the viewer, adding almost a painterly quality to them.

With a film like this, I believe the artistic approach was crucial for getting the audience captivated by such a dismal and dreary story. It exposes what some people are afraid to confront, but does so in a truly engaging and storytelling way. Melancholia will speak to those who battles with, or witnesses someone with, depression. I’m not one to just sit and mope around watching sad movies all the time, but the beauty behind the film making makes me appreciate a film like this. When a film has multiple scenes that could easily be taken as stills and framed in a gallery, you have my undivided attention.

Film making is more than just A-list actors, a well-known director, and a big budget. It’s about the intent that goes into each scene, using the proper lighting, composition, and scenery. There’s an art to film making that needs to be appreciated more, and films like this make it easy to do just that.


Directed By: Lars von Trier

Produced By: Meta Louise Foldager and Louise Vesth

Screenplay By: Lars von Trier

Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Alexander Skarsgard, Kiefer Sutherland

Distributed By: Nordisk Film

Release Date: May 26, 2011

Run Time: 136 Minutes

Rating: R

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