After attracting a sizable amount of controversy in 2009's ANTICHRIST, Danish bad-boy director Lars von Trier continues to explore his theme of depression with an unconventional take of end-of-the-world disaster drama called MELANCHOLIA.
The movie opens promisingly with a mesmerizing eight-minute prologue set to Wagner's Tristan and Isolde as we witnesses a series of surrealistic tableaux shot in stylized slow-motion photography -- Justin (Kirsten Dunst) is looking bewildered with a shower of dead birds dropping down from the sky, plodding through a dark forest in her wedding dress, floating in a murky pond, a dark horse falling, and flames of electricity zapped across her fingertips as she reached out her hands. This particular scene alone is simply stunning enough to warrant this a must-see for any movie fans.
However once the movie shifts tone with THE CELEBRATION (FESTEN)-like narrative structure, the movie becomes a painfully long-winded stretch of sedated viewing experience. Shot in the disorienting handheld style, von Trier focuses on Justine and her newlywed husband, Michael (Alexander Skarsgard) as they are trying to reach their own wedding party held in her brother-in-law John's (Kiefer Sutherland) mansion. Throughout the movie, we learn that Justine is suffering from severe depression and everyone in her family members and the rest of her important guests have various issues against her. Tension are everywhere, as Justine witness her divorced and bitter mother (Charlotte Rampling) makes sarcastic remarks; John can't stop mentioning about how much money he has spent for the lavish wedding reception; Justine's sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is suffering her own damage control; and her demanding boss (Stellan Skarsgard), who has recently promoted her to art director at the ad agency where they work together, keeps pressuring her to come up a new tagline for their latest campaign. At the same time, Justine's depressing behavior grows increasingly abnormal at each passing time and she is threatening to ruin the entire wedding. Not only that, there is something else -- a mysterious planet called Melancholia is about to engage in a collision course with planet Earth.
The overall tone in MELANCHOLIA is certainly so depressing it meant to drain your feeling into a state of frustration. For that alone, von Trier has succeeded admirably but it's also a huge mistake since he fails to provide his characters enough room for development to care about them. Instead they are more like forgettable ciphers who sleepwalks throughout their roles (not even the presence of screen veterans including John Hurt and Charlotte Rampling can save this bloated mess). Then there's von Trier's catatonic screenplay which feels like an endless slog. I can say watching MELANCHOLIA is like waiting the paint to dry. I don't mind if a movie is very slow-moving as long as they are interesting, but that's hardly the case in MELANCHOLIA -- the story evokes so much sense of boredom I almost falls asleep. If that's not insulting enough, von Trier is rather lazy in term of his execution -- no matter how artistic he's trying to be, it's really preposterous to see no one seems to be bother to react accordingly once the second half of the movie reveals that the planet of Melancholia is closing by. Instead all we see is they wait and act hopelessly depressing until the end. Speaking of ending, the movie is strangely anticlimactic that will leaves you unfulfilled.
It's a shame that von Trier fails to sustain peculiar interest once the promising first eight-minute prologue has ended. Elsewhere, only Kirsten Dunst emerges in an emotionally-devastating role as the depressing Justine. She's a stunning revelation here, who is also well-deserved to win the coveted Best Actress award at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival.