Melancholia movie still
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130 min.
Release Date

Lars von Trier’s Melancholia opens with Kirsten Dunst’s tired, darkened eyes. They look as though her character, Justine, hasn’t slept in days. Her stringy hair frames her face, pale and devoid of expression. Behind her, dead birds fall from the sky. The light around Justine has an uncanny, vaguely purple glow, which carries into the next eight minutes of sublime images, each more apocalyptic than the last, foretelling the world’s end. Employing concepts usually found in science fiction and disaster fare, von Trier weaves his genres into a melodrama whose protagonist embodies the filmmaker’s depression. Described in the film’s press notes as a “beautiful film about the end of the world,” Melancholia also represents an oddity in the Danish director’s career. It contains a harmony between the devastating emotional effect most prominent in his narratives with a stripped-down aesthetic. But it’s presented with a formal mastery that combines the operatic monumentality of his leitmotif—Richard Wagner’s prelude to Tristan and Isolde—with painterly imagery. At once a commercial project by von Trier standards and a profoundly moving, mysterious film, Melancholia echoes the emotions and grim visions of its protagonist, an onscreen counterpart for the director. To watch the film is to experience how depressives register the pain of existence and may even look to The End with a blissful, gracious heart.

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