Follow TV Tropes


Film / Melancholia

Go To

Melancholia is a 2011 Speculative Fiction film written and directed by Lars von Trier. It mainly focuses on the relationship between the two sisters Justine and Claire, played by Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg. The movie is divided into two parts, the first about Justine's wedding, the second about the upcoming fly-by of the rogue planet Melancholia that's drifting through the solar system. The focus lies on how the characters relate to the events surrounding them, from the mundane event of a wedding to the possibility of a planetary collision.

Like Von Trier's previous movie, Melancholia was surrounded by some consternation at the Cannes Film Festival. Von Trier's jokes about Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany resulted in him being declared a persona non gratanote . Dunst's performance was praised, however, and she walked away with the Best Actress Award.


The second installment of Von Trier's "depression" trilogy, between Antichrist and Nymphomaniac.

This film provides examples of:

  • Absent Aliens: Justine claims that humanity is alone in the universe as part of her increasing depression. Of course she has no way of actually knowing this, insisting that she just "knows".
  • Abusive Parents: Gaby has nothing nice to say about Justine. She does say that she expects Claire to be the more 'sensible' sister, but Gaby's attitude towards rituals such as weddings in general probably means she's also caused problems for Claire in the past.
  • Alien Sky: Once Melancholia appears in the sky, things turn eerie.
  • Angst Coma: By the second act, Justine is in one of these.
  • Apocalypse How: Class X (Physical Annihilation)
  • Apocalyptic Montage: The movie opens with a dramatic montage depicting events leading up to the collision.
  • Advertisement:
  • Art Shift: The opening montage is shot in extreme slow motion, with extremely stylized imagery. The rest of the film is photographed normally.
  • Artistic License – Astronomy: Von Trier has mentioned he was never interested in depicting the astronomical events accurately.
    • Melancholia couldn't have hidden behind the sun without being visible for very long.
    • The film presents the only danger Melancholia poses to Earth is by direct collision. However, even a flyby could potentially be disastrous. It might "slingshot" the Earth out of orbit, and the tidal forces could also wreak havoc, depending on Melancholia's mass.
    • Melancholia's trajectory – first crossing Earth's orbit in a flyby, then receding, only to approach Earth again, while Earth's orbit doesn't change at all – suggests that Melancholia actually experienced sufficient gravitational pull while passing Earth to knock the former out of its orbit. This would imply that Melancholia's mass is much smaller than the Earth's (i.e. even smaller than that of Earth's moon). However, in the opening montage we see that Earth shatters at the impact, while Melancholia doesn't experience any sort of noteworthy deformation, which in turn would suggest that Melancholia is either massive, has a very dense crust or an atmosphere that's sufficiently dense that it could crush the Earth. Either possibility implies that Melancholia's mass is huge. It also has sufficient mass to sap Earth's atmosphere even while flying by at a "safe" distance.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: Claire stashes away a bottle of pills should the worst come to pass. Her husband scoffs at her for this. He ends up using them first.
  • Big, Screwed-Up Family: "Is everyone in your family stark raving mad?"
  • Blessed with Suck: Von Trier basically explores the idea how people with depression can function better than others under certain circumstances. Such as Justine and Claire, where the former is eerily calmed and the latter is breaking down as Melancholia hits.
  • Bookends: The opening montage shows Earth crashing into Melancholia. The movie ends with a view from the surface.
  • The Cassandra: Justine.
  • Colony Drop: Of a sort. Earth eventually smashes into the much larger Melancholia, which obliterates it and absorbs the debris.
  • Cosmic Plaything: As recognized by Justine.
  • Counter-Earth
  • Crapsack World
    Justine: The Earth is evil. We don't need to grieve for her.
  • A Date with Rosie Palms: Implied when Justine is bathing in Melancholia's light.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Justine has hers during her wedding, where she completely breaks down. Claire has hers when she realizes the Earth is doomed. John as well.
  • Deuteragonist: Either Claire or Justine.
  • Dirty Old Man: Justine and Claire's father, played by John Hurt, shamelessly hits on two younger women for the entire wedding. His note implies that he ditched his daughter to go sleep with one of them.
  • Disability Superpower: The clinically depressed main character is apparently omniscient.
  • Doomed Protagonist: Don't bother getting attached to anyone or rooting for them to make it. From the beginning, you know they'll be dead before the movie ends.
  • Downer Ending: Trier himself taglined the film with "No more happy endings!" That's saying something!
    • Bittersweet Ending: Everyone dies, but Justine is able to come to a kind of peace with herself in the face of the apocalypse, and create a way for her sister and nephew to be together at the end. Von Trier has said it's the happiest ending he's ever written.
  • Driven to Suicide: Upon realizing that Melancholia is not going to pass harmlessly by, but is rather coming back to crash into Earth, John gives into despair and takes a lethal dose of sleeping pills.
  • Earth-Shattering Kaboom
  • Emotionless Girl: Justine slowly falls apart during her wedding. In the bathtub she is almost catatonic.
  • Everybody Dies: Duh...
  • Fan Disservice: Given what her character's going through and also the tone of the film, Kirsten Dunst's nude scenes are not supposed to be sexy. You have to give credit for Kirsten going further than she's ever been in her career, though.
  • Foolish Sibling, Responsible Sibling: Claire is the normal, straight-laced one, while Justine is a manic-depressive and often cannot take care of herself.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Melancholia hits Earth. Von Trier deliberately showed this right away because he didn't want suspense to be the point of the audience's experience.
  • Freudian Excuse: Justine may have inherited mental illness from her parents. Her mother is a bitter woman and her father is a lech who might be going senile.
  • From Bad to Worse: In both parts of the movie: the wedding and the fly-by of Melancholia.
  • Foreshadowing: The star Antares is no longer visible in the sky.
  • Homage: The image of Justine floating down the stream in her dress with a bouquet is inspired by John Everett Millais' 1852 painting "Ophelia"
  • How We Got Here: The ending is shown in the opening montage so that the audience won't be distracted by whether or not Melancholia will hit the Earth.
  • Important Hair Cut / Expository Hairstyle Change: After the wedding, before going completely catatonic, Justine chops off her hair.
  • Jerkass: John, though whether he has a Heart of Gold or a Heart of Jerk is tough to say. He gripes about money a lot and is pretty impatient with Justine and unsympathetic toward her illness. But he lets Claire take care of her and occasionally has a kind word to say. His intellect shields him from fear of Melancholia, and he does his best to keep his wife and child from being afraid, too... but when that gets flipped around and he becomes certain that the rogue planet will indeed strike the Earth, he commits a supreme act of selfishness and cowardice by killing himself, leaving Claire to deal with that, their child, and their impending doom alone.
    • Gaby. She's likely one of the reasons why Justine is depressed. See Abusive Parent.
    • Justine's boss, Jack, who keeps pestering her to give him the tagline for the company, rather than feeling happy that one of his employees is getting married. He only came to the wedding to get that tagline.
    • Justine herself, being aloof towards her new husband and cheating on him on their wedding night. Plus some of the things she says to her sister, including mocking her plea of how to spend their final hour and making Claire do it her own way. She is, however, genuinely concerned about her little nephew and goes out of her way to alleviate his fears.
  • Kill 'em All
  • Let Them Die Happy: Justine offers one to her nephew when she suggests they'll be safe in a special shelter.
  • Lighter and Softer: Only and only when compared to the preceding film in Lars von Trier's "Depression Trilogy".note 
  • Like You Were Dying: Justine has this effect on Claire and Leo.
  • Meaningful Echo: "I'm scared." First said by Justine, when confiding in her mother about her marriage; then by Leo to Justine, as Melancholia re-approaches Earth.
    • "Sometimes, I really hate you, Justine."
  • Melancholy Moon: Melancholia is this Turned Up to Eleven, especially to Justine.
  • Morality Pet: Justine's nephew to Justine.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Everyone in the film uses their natural accent, so it's not clear where the film takes place. Claire and Justine are sisters with British parents, but Dunst as Justine uses her American accent. She works for a Swedish man who has a nephew with an American accent. The resort's butler is Danish and the wedding has a German planner. Claire is married to an American man and their child has an American accent, while Gainsbourg as Claire herself doesn't hide the fact that she's of mixed Anglo-French origin, speaking in a bit of a (hardly discernible) French accent every now and then.
  • Oh, Crap!: Claire's realization that Melancholia is coming back around after its fly-by.
  • Right Through His Pants
  • Rule of Symbolism: Throughout the movie, John repeatedly mentions that his estate has an eighteen-hole golf course. When Claire and Leo are unable to leave the estate towards the end, Claire carries Leo across the golf course, passing a flag marking the nineteenth hole. The nineteenth hole is a term for a pub or clubhouse where golfers drink after the game, often found near or on the course itself.
    • At crucial times, the sisters try desperately yet fail to cross the bridge separating them from the rest of the world: Justine, when Claire attempts to cheer her up the morning after her disastrous wedding, and Claire, when she wants to be in the village when Melancholia crashes into Earth.
  • Runaway Bride: Not so much running away as falling apart at the seams.
  • Running Gag: The wedding planner played by Udo Kier who shields Justine's face from his vision every time he passes by.
  • Sex for Solace: Justine with her boss's nephew.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: Everybody dies and nobody resolves anything.
  • Shout-Out: The whole movie is basically a shout-out to When Worlds Collide set in the 2000s, only told from the perspective of ordinary people. There's a flyby, a Hope Spot, then the realization that the collision will happen after all and Earth (and they) are finished.
    • The name 'Justine' was taken from the (in)famous Marquis de Sade novel, Justine, or the Misfortunes of Virtue
  • Sibling Yin-Yang: Basically the central focus of the movie. Further highlighted in that Justine is blonde and Claire has black hair.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Pretty much breaks the scale on the cynicism side. It doesn't really matter that the world is going to end and possibly all life in the universe will be extinguished; life is so shitty and devoid of meaning that it's a good, perhaps even beautiful thing. Sort of justified, in that the whole scenario is a metaphor for depression, except that the director is pretty much romanticizing it with this film.
  • Stepford Smiler: Justine at her wedding.
  • Tall, Dark, and Snarky: Justine and Claire's mom. She thinks everything about the wedding (including the guests, her family, and the very tradition of weddings) is stupid, and when she sneaks off to take a bath in the middle of the reception (coincidentally at the same time as Justine) she notes that (paraphrased) "I wasn't there for her first execration, I wasn't there for her first intercourse, and I don't need to be here for this". At one point Claire quietly wonders why she even came.
  • Thematic Series: Part of the "Depression" Trilogy with Antichrist and Nymphomaniac.
  • Thousand-Yard Stare: Justine.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: Everything the movie has to offer is covered in the trailers.
  • Two-Act Structure: Both chapters differ in mood.
  • Unable to Cry: Justine only starts to cry when she's comforting her nephew.
  • Weird Moon: Melancholia, again.
  • World Limited to the Plot: Unusually for a disaster film; the film focuses solely on Justine, her family, and guests, and shows none of the outside world's reactions to Melancholia.
  • Your Days Are Numbered: The whole premise of the film.