Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Melancholia (2011)(Spoiler Review)

**This review contains spoilers**

After an unexpected dilemma with their limo, Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Michael (Alexander Skarsgard) are stranded on the road with no help. As newlyweds, Justine and Michael are late to their own wedding reception, and Justine receives an icy welcome from her family.

Justine’s sister, Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and her husband, John (Kiefer Sutherland)  host the reception at their lavish estate, featuring a grand golf course, but the joyous night takes a turn for the worst after Justine and Michael’s arrival. Claire begs a distracted and moody Justine to enjoy the party, and Claire’s husband, John isn’t happy about wasting money on a dissatisfied Justine.

To make matters worse, Justine’s surly mother, Gaby (Charlotte Rampling) is still holding a grudge, the wedding planner (Udo Kier) avoids eye contact with Justine, because she ruined the wedding, and Justine’s pushy boss, Jack (Stellan Skarsgard) is looking for a new tagline for a recent ad. For a temporary escape from the madness at the party, Justine finds solace in Claire’s young son, Leo (Cameron Spurr) and her eccentric father, Dexter (John Hurt).

The party is a disaster, but Justine, Claire, John, and everyone else are forced to deal with a bigger problem. A large rogue plane name Melancholia is on a collision course with earth. With five days to prepare for the collision, a depressed and lonely Justine moves in with Claire and John. To ease Claire’s fears, John dismisses the scientists projections for Melancholia’s arrival, and he reassures Claire Melancholia will pass Earth without any problems. Is John right about a harmless flyby sighting from Melancholia? Or will Melancholia destroy earth during a once in a lifetime apocalyptic collision?

Kirsten Dunst delivers one of the best performances in her career as Justine. Justine is a miserable train wreck in every way imaginable. She doesn’t care about the reception or her new husband, she squanders a promotion from her boss, and there’s a scene, where Justine beats one of Claire’s horses out of frustration. Also, during a severe stage of depression, Justine bursts into tears during a meal with her favorite food (meatloaf), because everything tastes like “ashes.”

But you can feel sympathy for Justine during the fiasco at the wedding reception. Charlotte Rampling’s Gaby is just a bully, who taunts and degrades her own daughter. Claire openly expresses her hatred for Justine, and Jack is a real scumbag, because he’s forcing one of his employees to work on her wedding day.

And the irony behind the Justine character  comes full circle towards the end, because Justine is the voice of reason (more on that later) during the Melancholia dilemma. It’s strange, because throughout the movie, Justine is the primary source for everyone’s problems and headaches. Dunst really immersed herself in the Justine character. You’ll either hate or love Justine, because there’s no middle ground for this character, but it’s impossible to ignore the top notch quality of Dunst’s engrossing performance.

The supporting cast is rock solid, with Gainsbourg providing the second best performance as Claire. Although, Gainsbourg has the advantage of more screen time over everyone else. Rampling could’ve stole the show as the hateful mother, and you can say the same thing about Hurt’s  Dexter, as the loopy and carefree father. But the screen time for both characters is limited to the first half of the film focusing on Justine’s story. Stellan Skarsgard is a nice fit for the demanding and uncaring boss, and I can’t say too much about Alexander Skarsgard, because Michael’s screen time is cut short, and his character is overshadowed by Justine’s troubles and the calamity at the wedding reception. No complaints about Kiefer Sutherland’s John, and Spurr is harmless as Leo.

When the story shifts to Part Two, time is running out before the big collision with Melancholia, and Justine is a broken and lonely woman. At the wedding reception, a bewildered Michael abandons her. Jacks’ prodding pushes Justine over the edge, so she quits her job. Out of nowhere, Justine has sex with Jack’s assistant on the golf course, and Dexter breaks a promise to Justine. During the reception, Dexter promised to sleepover at the estate with Justine, so they could have breakfast the next morning. But Dexter leaves a note to Claire about catching a taxi to leave the estate. In the end, Dexter vanished without saying anything to Justine.

Justine is stuck in an immobile stage of misery. She won’t bathe herself, she refuses to eat, and she can’t walk without Claire’s help. After a while, Justine slowly climbs out of her hole, and her troubles take a backseat to a bigger problem: Melancholia. John’s projections for a harmless flyby are proven wrong after Melancholia circles earth. John spots Melancholia’s new trajectory in his telescope, and in a matter of hours, Melancholia will destroy earth.

During Claire‘s nap on the patio, John swallowed an entire bottle of pills (originally, Claire bought the bottle of pills, so everyone could commit suicide together without suffering a brutal death, if Melancholia hit earth) to commit suicide. Claire panics, when she uses Leo’s homemade apparatus to see an up close view of Melancholia, and Claire finds John’s lifeless body in the stable outside.

All the cars in the driveway won’t crank. Claire uses a golf cart to drive Leo and herself to a nearby village for one last desperate shot at safety, but the battery in the golf cart dies, so Claire returns to the estate with a nonchalant Justine. Claire wants a perfect setting for Leo’s final moments on earth with music and candles, but Justine shoots Claire’s idea down for a more favorable activity with Leo. Together, Leo and Justine build a shabby magical teepee with wood from a nearby forest. Justine, Leo, and Claire hold hands inside the teepee, as Melancholia crashes into earth. The last image of the movie shows Justine, Claire, and Leo together, as a big wave of fire destroys everything in its path, and the screen cuts to black.

An amazing sequence. I could feel the inescapable sense of dread and terror before Melancholia destroyed earth. The shot of Melancholia crashing into earth is a beautiful and breathtaking image. Plus, Gainsbourg did a wonderful job of selling the heartbreaking devastation, as Claire is scrambling to find a car that actually works.

During the final scene in the teepee, you get a chance to see three different POVs for Melancholia’s arrival. Leo is calm, because he’s too young to really understand the severity of what’s about to happen. Claire tries to hold everything together, but she falls apart in the final moments. And Justine simply accepts the end with no regrets or problems. It’s an incredible turn around, when you stop and think about. The roles are reversed during the final stages of Melancholia’s arrival, because Justine is the peacemaker, and Clarie is the one, who’s causing most of the problems.

My biggest problem with Melancholia? It’s too uneven. The story is split into two parts. Part One focuses on Justine, and Part Two is titled “Claire,” but Melancholia is the primary focus. Part One did a good job of establishing the main characters, but the drama during the wedding reception didn’t do anything for me. In fact, Part One is very boring and uninteresting most of the time, and two of the most entertaining characters (Gaby and Dexter) don’t appear in the second half.

Part One can’t measure up to Part Two, because Part Two packs a powerful, gut-wrenching punch. Some will say it’s unfair to compare a failed wedding reception to the possibility of a doomsday threat, but I HAD to know what would happen during Part Two. On the flip side, Part One didn’t do enough to pique my interest for the second act.

Still, Melancholia isn’t a bad film. It’s an emotional and absorbing apocalyptic drama, featuring stunning visuals, a strong cast, and Lars Von Trier’s impeccable work behind the camera is something to admire. Melancholia might be too bleak and depressing for some people, but I couldn’t pull myself away from the screen during the grandiose finale. It’s an experience I’ll never forget, and I’m glad I took a chance on Melancholia.

Rating: 8/10

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