‘Melancholia’ falls just short

By Brian Duskey

April 19, 2012

Ideas come easy. Half are good and a third are great, but only a select few of us can take these great ideas and execute them to the upmost of quality. In “Melancholia,” writer/director Lars Von Trier puts together an original sci-fi story that focuses more on its characters, rather than any piece of action or epidemic. His downfall is that he may have been too focused on the meaning of the film to appropriately direct the piece. The film revolves around two sisters, Justine and Claire (Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg), who are struggling with happiness in their lives. Their struggles are also highlighted by a mysterious planet called “Melancholia” that has been hiding behind the Sun for thousands of years and is now approaching Earth at a rapid pace, endangering their existence. While the whole apocalyptic “Deep Impact” storyline has been done before, Trier’s “Melancholia” is able to provide a new take on the story. It revolves more around the characters, rather than the event itself. The event plays more as an interruption to the story, which is actually quite intriguing. The film opens with an 8-minute (very) slow-motion sequence that projects several people living through the final moments of Melancholia’s collision with Earth. So this sets up what the fate of all the characters is going to be, you are just along for the ride to see what their final moments on Earth are like. Justine is the protagonist of the film and half of the film takes place at her wedding. She goes through with her marriage but feels trapped in the relationship. This leads to one of the most interesting sex scenes ever put on film. Justine is scared when the time comes to consummate her love with her husband on the wedding night, so she leaves the room momentarily and runs across a golf course. She runs into a random wedding guest, pins him on the green and takes advantage of him. Most of this is all one, very wide shot. The acting in “Melancholia” is rather superb, especially on the side of Dunst. You really feel the desperation in her character during the beginning and the revolt in her character near the end of the film. Kiefer Sutherland, who plays Claire’s husband, is also magnificent in his role. He is able to come off as an intelligent scientist, a loving father and an intimidating authority all at once. The directing in the film suffered. Lier had a clear passion for the message of the film and dedication to science fiction, but made some odd choices that killed the pacing of the film early on. The decision to go with a more documentary style of filmmaking was not effective. There were several gorgeous images through out the film, such as an amazingly elegant twilight scene of Justine lying nude above a waterfall, but those shots didn’t match with the normal handheld style of the piece. On that same issue, the cinematography was gorgeous but struggled with mechanics. There were a handful of beautiful shots in the piece, but the film was going in and out of focus way too often. It worked at times as a style choice, but came off as unprofessional at other moments. The film would of benefitted from a more traditional style of shooting. The film was a pleasure to watch because of its story, acting and stunning imagery, though it suffered from inconsistent cinematography and lacked quality directing. The film would of benefited from a director like Darren Aronofsky ("Black Swan") or Paul Thomas Anderson ("There Will Be Blood") who deal with very artistic subjects but strive with their ability to tell stories clearly and pace story well. With better direction and a more consistent cinematography, this could of been a cinema masterpiece; unfortunately, it trips up just before the finish line. "Melancholia" is a quality film, but is not for everyone. If you have the patience for an artistic film with dark characters, pick up this DVD.