Lars von Trier’s latest, Melancholia, screens tonight and again on Thursday. Magnolia Pictures will release it in theaters on November 11.
Lars von Trier is depressed. He said as much while promoting his last film, Antichrist, and he has said as much in his latest, Melancholia, in which a big ball of doldrums takes the literalized form of a big blue planet from which the movie takes its title, which was hidden behind the sun but is now on a crash course for Earth. Get it? It’s a metaphor—for depression’s volatile nature, its unpredictable effects, its inescapability, its enormity, and the way it tears apart families because depressed people are so fucking difficult to deal with.
But the film is in two parts, with this epic allegory saved for last. First, von Trier looks at depression straight: Kirsten Dunst, in a role that won her an award at Cannes, plays Justine, who spends the first act celebrating—or not—her wedding to True Blood‘s Eric. It’s Dogme-founder von Trier’s turn at a Celebration, and he handles it with comic aplomb (Udo Keir nearly steals the movie as the wedding planner), crafting a haphazardly filmed farce that’s jovial and funny until it isn’t—like life for everyone else, Justine ruins her wedding.
Afterward, she’s shuttled to her sister’s remote estate with a Marienbad-like garden, where she and the family wait and worry about Melancholia’s trajectory. And though this misery will ultimately destroy them—no spoiler alerts necessary; von Trier outlines the whole plot with striking tableaux during the first five minutes—it also proves a salvation, giving Justine emotional clarity that allows her to prepare herself and others for the end, a clarity her harried sister, Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg), cannot muster. “The earth is evil,” Justine explains. “We don’t need to grieve for it. No one will miss it.” In Melancholia, von Trier apologizes for his recent psychological state. But he vindicates it as well.