Posted by: ckckred | June 13, 2013


I review Lars Von Trier's latest film

I review Lars von Trier’s latest film

It’s been a few days since I’ve seen Lars von Trier’s Melancholia and I’m still unsure what I think about it.  Writing this review is a difficult task and I don’t feel I’ve completely solidified my thoughts.  But I can tell you this: Melancholia is a film and I reacted to it strongly.  Whether my reaction, or anyone’s in particular, is intended is only known to Mr. Trier.

Lars von Trier is known for his work exploring the brutality and sadism of society in the line of directors like Stanley Kubrick, David Lynch, and Michael Haneke.  But unlike those directors (all of whom are personal favorites of mine), Mr. Trier never seems to fully grasp his work and I find his movies smug, mean-spirited, and arrogant.  There is no doubt that he is a talanted director, but I believe he can’t properly execute his films.  His previous movie, Antichrist, had plenty of supporters but I found myself repulsed by the movie.  While I understand that’s Trier’s intention, I found the movie to be rather cynical.  Melancholia is more accessible than Antichrist, but is still easily one of the most polarizing movies of recent years, perhaps somewhat due to Mr. Trier’s comments at the Cannes Film Festival.  But I judge the artwork, not the artist, and I found myself partly entranced, partly repulsed by Melancholia.

Melancholia has a somewhat linear story that’s told in a bizarre way.  The film is split into two halves, with the first entitled “Justine” and the second “Claire.”  “Justine” focuses on a woman of the same name (played by Kirsten Dunst), who is about to marry Michael (Alexander Skarsgard).  Their wedding is held at her brother-in-law John’s (Kiefer Sutherland) mansion, who’s put off by Justine’s family.  Her father Dexter (John Hurt) is a womanizer and her mother Gaby (Charlotte Rampling) is put off by the subject of weddings.  Justine’s sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) worries about her sibling as she seems disoriented from the event.

The second half of the film is centered around Claire.  John works as an astronomer and has discovered that a small planet named Melancholia, which has never been seen before, is heading directly to Earth.  John tells his family that Melancholia won’t hit Earth which isn’t true (this is not a spoiler, Melancholia is shown colliding into Earth at the beginning of the film).  Claire worries about the safety of her family and of Justine, who has left Michael and lived with her in a sickly appearance.

Mr. Trier based the movie on his own depression and it’s clear for me to see this is a rather personal film.  The director places metaphors of his own life in the picture: Justine is to supposed to represent himself I believe, stuck in a miserable world and not knowing what to do.  Mr. Trier does not reveal why Justine is so depressed and hides other character motivations.  This is not necessarily a bad move, but I found myself unconvinced at some of the actions to take place in the film.

A comparison can be made between Melancholia and Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life.  While the two have completely opposite tones, both share a great deal of surrealism and beautiful imagery.  But Mr. Malick is able to control all the elements within The Tree of Life and has a successful pay-off.  Mr. Trier, on the other hand, spins Melancholia on a backwards course.  There’s a message to Melancholia, and what it is is that life and all of humankind sucks and only those who embrace it can be happy.

Melancholia, like Antichrist, made me very angry.  But unlike Antichrist, I recognized a sense of greatness and potential in Melancholia, plus I didn’t hate it.  I wasn’t bored during the two hour span of Melancholia, and I was impressed with the scenery and especially the acting, particularly on Ms. Dunst’s part, who delivers a performance better than any of the Oscar nominees for Best Actress.  I felt like I was missing something from Melancholia, which frustrated me.  I knew there is something deeper, but while I can’t uncover it I can at least respect the film’s attempts.

So is Melancholia a good movie?  Maybe.  It’s well made and very effective undoubtedly, and I probably respect the film.  I’d tell others to watch it to see how they reacted to the movie.  Perhaps on a subsequent viewing I’ll manage to uncover Melancholia‘s deeper meaning, but the outer shell seems frustrating and somewhat despicable.


  1. Great post on a very polarising film.

  2. “Partly entranced, partly repulsed…” That’s a great way of summing up Von Trier’s work in general. And I agree, Melancholia has greater worth than Antichrist, where its repulsiveness seemed to be the entire point of the picture. But I still think Breaking the Waves is his best movie; his sympathy for Emily Watson’s character is almost palpable .

    • Thanks! Melancholia is better than Antichrist since it’s less repulsive, yet I found myself somewhat angry at the picture, particularly at Justine, though I admired the film as a whole. I haven’t seen Breaking The Waves, I’ll have to watch that.

      • Check it out. Fantastic movie! And Emily Watson… brilliant and heartbreaking.

  3. Such a difficult film to write about, so good work mate! I was left a little puzzled over my feelings towards it too, and I’m still not sure if I liked it or not to be honest.

    • Thanks! I had the exact same thoughts. I really admired the film, but the message and core of it seems pretty repulsive. I think I might watch it again to see if I can uncover anything else.

  4. I loved the opening and ending to this movie and found the rest of it – basically everything that is repulsive shaky-cam – quite boring. Great write-up!

    Antichrist is a terrible, terrible, disgusting movie.

    • Thanks! Yeah, I agree about the shakeycam. I don’t see why Trier wanted to use it for the first half. Antichrist was terrible, I absolutely hated it.

      • I hated almost every second of it….

      • I don’t remember if I finished it or not, I just remember loathing it immensely. It tried to disguise its arrogance with artistic ambition.

  5. I’ve yet to see this one. Time to get off the couch and do something about it. Thanks.

    • Thanks for the comment. It’s available on Netflix Instant right now. It’s an admirable movie, if repulsive in its morals.

  6. Excellent write up! Regardless, I’m still a huge Von Trier fan and can’t wait to see “Nymphomaniac.” Nonetheless, you brilliantly summarized why people are so polarized by him and I…somewhat understand? ;). Great stuff!

    • Thanks! I respected its craft and really enjoyed parts of it, but Melancholia’s message really put me off. That’s my problem with most of Trier’s work. I’m glad you’re a fan though.

  7. It can definitely be polarizing, but I’m glad you were able to enjoy it to some extent. The only von Trier films I’ve seen are this and Dogville and I’ve liked both very much. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t like Antichrist though, judging from everything I’ve heard and read about it. Good review!

    • Thanks! I liked it more than I thought I would, and even if the message put me off I admired what Von Trier did. Antichrist is an interesting film, but I found it highly disturbing and pretty nasty in its subject.

  8. Very disturbing flick, but for the first hour or so; just a normal flick. Didn’t care for it, until the world began to end. Weird, I know. I basically have no soul. Good review.

    • Thanks! I actually had a similar feeling as well. The second half was stronger than the first because that’s where the film started coming more together, though I still was very frustrated.

  9. hmmmm I had taken a pass on this after my brother reviewed this film and hated it. Still might check it out at some point but I am in no hurry. Probably does not help that snaggletooth Dunst is in this.

    • It’s an interesting film and while I didn’t love it, I didn’t hate it either. Dunst is actually surprisingly good in the film. Thanks for commenting.

  10. Good review. It’s a technically sound movie, and like you, I wasn’t bored or anything while watching it. However, the movie does a good job of making me hate humanity about as much as LVT apparently does, so by the end I was like “bring on the end of the world”, lol. So in that regard, this movie quite possibly achieved what it was going for. 😛

    • Thanks! That’s a great point. Lars von Trier really made me hate the characters, particularly Justine, so much I was kind of hoping Melancholia would hit the world sooner.

  11. I appreciated the unique cinematography and Dunst’s acting. It’s message is clear to me: our lives our random and inconsequential. Anti-religious and opposite of Tree of Life, it is a beautiful film, albeit depressing. Nice review.

    • Thanks! That’s a great analysis and I feel like watching it again to uncover more of von Trier’s message.

      • It’s an onion. I bet one could watch it ten times and still unravel more layers. That’s the definition of art, in my book.

  12. This is a really fantastic review. I often find that with films I am a little unsure of how I actually felt about them, writing can help with processing that. And it sort of feels like you are doing that here which is cool.

    I haven’t seen the film yet, but intend to. I was really interested in the comparisons you made with the Tree of Life. Have you seen von Trier’s Dogville? Given your thoughts about the director, would be quite intrigued to hear what you think.

    • Thanks! Melancholia shares The Tree of Life’s imagery but has an opposite tone. The second half of the movie is very depressing.

      I haven’t seen Dogville, I’ll have to put that on my watch list as well as Breaking the Waves.

  13. Trier always muddles me.

    Some of his films are truly stunning–this, Dogville. Others, like Antichrist The Boss of It All, make me want to puke–not because they’re disturbing, but because they’re so awful.

    Great review. 🙂

    • Thanks! Glad you enjoyed this. Trier was being very restrained here and I enjoyed the picture, even if I had some problems with it. I agree that Antichrist is a terrible movie, it’s just so mean and cynical.

  14. I was going to see this because of the Malick comparison, but since you say they are opposite in tone I think I’ll wait. And we both have the same opinion of Malick so I’ll trust you. 🙂

    • Thanks for the comment. It’s available on Netflix right now. It’s an interesting film and while I didn’t love it, I would recommend it to others. I much prefer The Tree of Life over this but it’s a well made movie.

  15. I’ve not seen Melancholia yet, and sadly not available on Netflix UK. The premise intrigues me but I kind of deliberately avoided it as it came out roughly around the same time as Another Earth which has a similar story. I adore Another Earth so wasn’t sure if I wanted to see another film so similar in such a short space of time.

    I get the feeling that whereas Another Earth looks at redemption, Melancholia is much more downbeat. Perhaps they do actually make a decent companion set. Still pondering if I should make a concerted effort to see it…

    • Thanks for the comment. I have yet to see Another Earth, but Melancholia bears resemblance to The Tree of Life, though the latter is more about the creation of the world while the other is the destruction of it. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it.

  16. […] light of my recent Melancholia post, perhaps the most difficult thing I’ve ever written on WordPress, I thought I’d ask how you […]

  17. I’m a big fan of Von Trier and I’d say the is his best film after Dogville. I absolutely loved every minute of this movie and it was one of my favourites of that year. I actually seen it back-to-back with The Tree Of Life and I was in cloud 9 for weeks afterwards.

    • Thanks for the comment. I liked it but didn’t fall in love with it, though I might enjoy it more after a second viewing. I still have to see Dogville.

  18. I can understand the mixed feelings. Personally that opening of the movie is what immediately won me over, very stunning images and beautiful soundtrack.

    • Thanks for the comment. The film is very beautiful and I probably let my feelings on Lars Von Trier judge my review too much. I’m planning on seeing it again if I have a different reaction.

  19. […] this link for my original review but I’ll reiterate some key statements.  I was amazed by the […]

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