An author writes what he knows. This definitely rings true for writer/director Lars von Trier, whose new film Melancholia deals with the personal issue of depression.
While it is widely known that Von Trier has suffered from depression, Melancholia doesn't exploit the disturbing nature of the condition but rather presents us with a fascinating observation of how someone suffering from it faces the end of the world.
The film opens with quite possibly the most beautiful and aesthetically pleasing sequence of the year. For the first seven minutes of the film, all that is shown are highly stylized images of characters juxtaposed with the cosmos moving in slow motion. These glorious shots are accompanied by the operatic music of the famous composer Richard Wagner. The montage ends with a shot of the collision of Earth and a massive planet. While the thought of the end of the world is terrifying, Von Trier is somehow able to render it beautiful.
After we watch the annihilation of Earth, the film splits into two parts, the first part titled "Justine." Justine (Kirsten Dunst) is a beautiful bride en route to her wedding reception with her new husband, Michael (Alexander Skarsgård). The reception, to which they are wildly late, is being held in the castle owned by Justine's sister and her husband. The couple appears happy, yet Justine is far from it. It takes everything to force a smile.
Justine has been struggling with depression for a long time, and she hoped finally getting married to Michael would alleviate her problems. How anyone could be depressed when tying the knot with Alexander Skarsgård will probably remain a mystery to the women of the world, but Dunst's effortless performance makes Justine a realistic and tangible character.
Justine's slow downward spiral on her wedding night is painful to watch, but entirely absorbing. At the end of part one, she notices a planet in the horizon that doesn't seem to belong there.
Part two of the movie is called "Claire," after Justine's sister, played by Charlotte Gainsbourg. It's revealed that what Justine saw on her wedding night is a massive rogue planet named "Melancholia." Claire fears that the planet is destined to collide with Earth, but her husband John (Kiefer Sutherland) assures her otherwise.
As Claire struggles to deal with the possible end of the world, she must also care for Justine. Since her wedding night, Justine's depression has worsened to the point that she can barely eat, walk or talk.
Through situational irony, the audience knows the fate of their world, yet it is still fascinating to watch these characters cope. In fact, Von Trier stated that he wanted to show the destruction of Earth at the start, so audiences would focus on the characters instead of their ultimate fate.
With its stunning visuals, impressive acting and wonderful music, Melancholia is one of the best films of the year.