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December 3, 2011 | 12:00 p.m. CST
Halfway through Melancholia, Lars von Trier’s latest film, a line from W. B. Yeats’ poem The Second Coming came to mind — “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.” This line, perhaps, encapsulates this gorgeously shot film, for its preoccupation is with the end of the world — a second coming of sorts — but the loose narrative of the movie cannot hold itself together. Ultimately, the movie for all its sheer beauty, unravels upon itself.
Melancholia opens with the wedding party of Justine (Kirsten Dunst), which is hosted by her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg). Although Justine’s depression threatens to damage all of her relationships and wreck her marriage, the trajectory of a new planet poses a much larger threat to all life on Earth. The title is both the name of the planet on a collision course toward Earth and an apt metaphor for Justine’s malaise and inability to find joy, even on her wedding day.Related Movie
Trier’s film is wonderfully shot, and it simultaneously captures the rustic, pastoral beauty of Claire and her husband’s estate and creates an almost voyeuristic sense of intimacy between the audience and the characters. This technique highlights Dunst’s ethereally haunting performance, which won her the best actress award when the film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival.
Despite the stunning psychological portraits that Melancholia renders, the film can often seem tedious and tiresome. This is especially true of the first half of the film, which is devoted entirely to Justine’s wedding. The filmmaking is sumptuously sensual, but parts become incredibly banal and quotidian. Loose narrative strands are raised and then never mentioned again.
The real strength of the film lies in its final half, which centers entirely on the impending destruction of the earth. It is a palpably real, depressing and, somehow, redemptive close to a film that could have been awe-inspiring with a little more judicious editing. Unfortunately, the film’s emotional center could not hold.