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Film / Melancholia

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"Enjoy it while it lasts."
Gaby note 

Melancholia is a 2011 pre-apocalyptic tragedy drama film written and directed by Lars von Trier.

The film is a Speculative Fiction story focused on the relationship between two sisters, the pessimistic Justine and the neurotic Claire, played respectively by Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg. It is divided into two parts, the first about Justine's wedding (and its progressive lapse into disarray), and 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 film Antichrist, Melancholia premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, won the Best Actress award for its lead female (Dunst), and became surrounded by considerable controversy. This time, it was a result of Von Trier joking about Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany at a press conference, which led to him being declared a persona non grata and receiving a 100-meter restraining order from the festival's venuenote .

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," and the film treats her depression as a kind of enlightenment that makes her effectively omniscient.
  • 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.
  • 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 – Space: Abounds in the logistics of Melancholia. von Trier has admittedly 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 direct collision as the only danger Melancholia poses to Earth. However, even a flyby could potentially be disastrous, risking such events as tidal deformation or varying levels of disruption of the Earth or Moon's orbits, 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 suck out a sizeable amount of 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: Between Justine's depression, Claire's anxiety, their father Dexter's hedonistic narcissism, and their mother Gaby's remorseless cynicism, there's no normal head on anyone's shoulders in the main family.
  • Bittersweet Ending: One that simultaneously leans heavy on the "bitter" side and functions as von Trier's happiest ending, which says a lot about him as a filmmaker. 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. Besides, life is so awful and meaningless that, really, it all being snuffed out is a good thing in the end.
  • Blessed with Suck: In this film, von Trier essentially explores the idea of how people with depression can function better than others under certain circumstances, like the end of the world.
  • Bookends: The opening montage ends with 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 Horror Story: Justine believes that not only is humanity alone, everything we aspire to is meaningless because life on Earth is fundamentally evil and will inevitably be destroyed by the cold universe.
  • Counter-Earth: Melancholia had previously been hidden on the other side of the sun.
  • Crapsack World: Justine's ability to come to terms with Melancholia impacting Earth hinges on her belief that Earth is this.
    Justine: The Earth is evil. We don't need to grieve for it.
  • 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 Justine is apparently omniscient, confidently opposing Claire and John's belief that Melancholia will pass by Earth, and also giving the correct number of beans in the wedding jar (678), which nobody could get.
    "I know things."
  • 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.
  • 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: How the film ends, with Earth's collision into Melancholia creating one of these.
  • Emotionless Girl: Justine slowly falls apart during her wedding. In the bathtub she is almost catatonic.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Played straight with Justine and Leo, averted with Claire. Their final moments are consistent with their character; Justine is apathetic towards the collision, and Leo (while afraid at one point) is able to find comfort in Justine, while Claire is openly distraught and flinches at the last second as the wall of fire created in the collision sweeps over them.
  • 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.
  • 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 in the opening titles. 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 It with Fire: The specific manner in which Justine, Claire, and Leo are offed is via incineration by the wall of fire created when Earth and Melancholia collide.
  • 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".
  • 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." Both times said by Claire; first in anger, then in sadness.
  • 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.
  • Only Sane Woman: Played with in regards to Justine's character arc; while she starts the film as the odd one out due to her intensifying depression, her complete acceptance of Earth's impending destruction actually makes her look level-headed compared to Claire and John's freakouts. The film also, deliberately or unintentionally, plays into the proud self-image many depressed people have, that they're the only ones being "realistic" and seeing the world as it is while all the non-depressed people are just (possibly wilfully) ignorant by treating her depression as a form of enlightenment.
  • 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: Played with; Justine doesn't actually have a specific "runaway" moment. She instead has a series of instances of running away, slipping further into her depression, and ultimately returning to the reception. The decision to call off the marriage is also reached by both parties amicably.
    • Signs of deconstruction are shown in the consequences Justine is confronted with for holding up the ceremony; for one, John complains that he's paid a lot of money for it.
  • Running Gag: The wedding planner played by Udo Kier who shields Justine's face from his vision every time he passes by, sticking to his promise to never look at her after she "ruined" the wedding.
  • 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.
    • Justine's name 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 Versus 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's face begins permanently turning into a lifeless stare as she sinks deeper into her depression.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: Everything the movie has to offer is covered in the trailers.
  • Two-Act Structure: The film is split into two chapters — "Justine" (concerning her wedding) and "Claire" (concerning Melancholia).
  • Unable to Cry: Justine doesn't cry during her depression; she only starts to cry when she's comforting her nephew.
  • Weird Moon: Melancholia.
  • 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.