(director/writer: Lars von Trier; cinematographer: Manuel Alberto Claro; editor: Molly Malene Stensgaard; music: Wagner;cast: Kirsten Dunst (Justine), Charlotte Gainsbourg (Claire), Alexander Skarsgard (Michael), Kiefer Sutherland (John), Stellan Skarsgard (Jack), Jesper Christensen (Little Father), Charlotte Rampling (Gaby), John Hurt (Dexter), Udo Kier (Wedding Planner), Brady Corbet (Tim), Cameron Spurr(Leo); Runtime: 135; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Meta Louise Foldager/Louise Vesth; Magnolia Pictures; 2011-in English)

“Dirge-like experimental sci-fi end of the world tale.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Danish director Lars von Trier (“Breaking the Waves”/“Dogville”/“Dancer in the Dark”)directs this dirge-like experimental sci-fi end of the world tale that’s beautifully shot but perhaps too oft-putting in its downbeat meaning. It tells an underdeveloped narrative about a world filled with those suffering from the Freudian termed psychological illness of melancholia, which happens to be the name of the rogue Melancholia planet on the path to crash into Earth.

The film is divided into two chapters, as the apocalypse is seen through the eyes of two polar opposite sisters: Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg).

Inthe first chapter entitled ‘Justine’, a passage from Wagner’s ‘Tristan and Isolde’ plays in the background as the radiant Justine arrives late by a rented limo with her nice guy but clueless groom Michael (Alexander Skarsgard) to the lavish wedding reception in the country castle of her uptight sister Claire’s pompous wealthy husband John (Kiefer Sutherland).Pissed because he’s springing for the tab and that Justine doesn’t seem to appreciate the effort, John grouses at Claire that she comes from a peculiar family.Speeches are made at the dinner table–where Justine’s embittered mother Gaby (Charlotte Rampling) rails against the institution of marriage while her pathologically whimsical estranged husband Dexter (John Hurt), Justine’s improvident father, gives a nasty speech poking fun at his former wife. The oily best man and Justine’s overbearing boss of the advertising firm, Jack (Stellan Skarsgard, Michael’s father), manages a few words of congratulation for the newlyweds and offers Justine a surprise promotion in the firm to art director as a wedding gift, only with the smarmy catch that she must work on a tagline for the latest ad campaign on her wedding night. The innocent fish out-of-water groom, in his bumbling speech, can only articulate how he never in his wildest dreams expected to marry someone so beautiful.

The happy occasion quickly sours amidst all the family tension, as the over sensitive Justine goes into a funk and runs away from her confused hubby to bang in the great outdoors, in her bridal gown, a weasel-like career-minded work colleague she met for the first time at the wedding, Tim (Brady Corbet), and play mind games with the impertinent John. The marriage ends later in the night, after all the well-heeled guests depart, with the groom making a quick exit and Justine staying over in the big house with the golf course on the premise and a giant telescope to watch the planet Melancholia pass by the earth the next day.

The second chapter entitled Claire, features the frightened Claire riding her horse to keep up appearances that things are normal despite the approaching day of doom. She also comforts her gentle boy Leo (Cameron Spurr), while receiving reassurances from her amateur astronomerhubby that the rogue planet will not crash into the earth because the leading scientists agree with his calculations that say it won’t.

The gist of the film shows how the sister opposites react to the apocalypse in different ways: with the self-destructive carefree psychic Justine not trusting the scientists (the powers of the world), but her own unproven fatalist views and cheerfully accepting the inevitable; while the sober-minded judgmental Claire is talked into believing something that isn’t true by her bullying hubby and even when she realizes she’s been misled goes into denial over the impending catastrophe. Justine recovers from her depressive funk to boldly, in an ecstatic state, tell her sister: “The earth is evil—we don’t need to grieve for it,” and further adds “I know we’re alone.”

The always controversial von Trier presents his sincere personal view that the end of the world might be aesthetically beautiful and something that might be seen in a positive light (against all rational views) because it can bring us together. The director respects the quirky misfit Justine’s hopeless view of the inevitable destruction of the world, as he shows that Justine’s views are the correct ones even if she’s the one society can’t accept because she’s wacko. That’s not to say he doesn’t respect Claire, whom he considers as dear to him as Justine for being so stable in a world that is bonkers (on a collision course with death because it suffers from a disease that prevents it from truly loving others).