• Melancholia

    Released by: Magnolia Home Entertainment
    Released on: March 13, 2012.
    Director: Lars Von Trier
    Cast: Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Alexander Skarsgard, Keifer Sutherland
    Year: 2011
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    The Movie:

    To call Lars von Trier’s Melancholia a movie about the end of the world, while not at all inaccurate, would be unfair. Yes, it’s set during the last few days of life as we know it on planet Earth but don’t expect explosions or an attempt by the military or, for that matter, anybody to try and bring about a stop to the impending doom. It’s not that kind of movie. In fact, it’s a bit difficult to really say what kind of movie it is. Where the director’s previous film, Antichrist, was very obviously a horror film his latest is something entirely different, and at the same time, so very recognizable as a von Trier movie (despite the obvious influence of Tarkovsky, The Sacrifice in particular).

    The movie is told in two parts, the first of which is titled simply Justine, the name of the pretty young bride we meet on her wedding day played by Kirstin Duntz. She’s to marry her kind and caring fiancé, Michael (Alexander Skarsgård) at the stately home of her sister, Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and her husband John (Kiefer Sutherland). Humorously, the stretch limousine they’ve hired to get them to the home gets stuck in the massive road that sprawls around the eighteen hole golf course that is also on the property, but they make it there, even if they are more than fashionably late upon their arrival, much to the dismay of the arrogant wedding planner (Udo Kier). As the night goes on, Justine’s depression sets in thanks in no small part to the behavior of her drunken philandering father (John Hurt) and her bitch of a mother (Charlotte Rampling), not to mention her boss (Stellen Skarsgård), whose wedding gift to her is a promotion and who insists she give him the tagline she’s been working on before the day is over. As Justine tries to distance herself from all of this, it eventually destroys her marriage before it even begins.

    The second part of the film, entitled Claire, takes place after the wedding as Justine, now very sick, comes to stay with Claire and John. They take her in and care for her, though John isn’t very happy about this, just as the planet ‘Melancholia’ starts to make its trip towards the Earth, something which Claire finds incredibly stressful and frightening. Initially John is confident that it will pass near Earth but not collide with it, even doing what he can to get his young son enthused. It soon turns out, however, that the scientists he put so much trust in were incorrect and Claire was right to be upset about all of this – the world is going to end, and very soon at that.

    Von trier opens the film with some of the most amazing shot compositions you’re likely to see any time soon – slow motion bits that show us the end of the world and tie in to what Dunst’s character goes through as she’s bogged down by wool, as she floats down a stream in her wedding gown holding a bouquet or as she runs towards her nephew as he whittles at a stick. Her favorite horse collapses into the ground while the planets collide and the Earth is destroyed. By opening the film this way, two things occur, the first of which is that the viewers expectation for spectacle are put aside and we’re able to concentrate on the character development (this is basically a character piece at its core). The second thing that happens is the movie, on a visual level at least, blows part of its load. While there are some great shots and gorgeous compositions seen throughout the movie they don’t quite match the power of the opening sequences and if they’re not supposed to that’s all well and good but you can’t help but feel just a little disappointed.

    Regardless, the good very much outweighs the bad and Melancholia deserves all of the accolades it has received since its theatrical debut. Those who know Dunst only from the Spider-Man films will be amazed at the depth and range that she shows here and it’s quite remarkable that she didn’t get an Oscar nomination for her work on this picture – she’s just that good, her character here completely broken (and her battles with depression obviously paralleling the director’s own issues). You really feel for her character and to a certain extent even get to crawl inside her head a bit to better understand what she’s going through even if the reasons for that are never made one hundred percent clear. Just as good here is Charlotte Gainsbourg, returning to Von trier’s stable of actors after working with him on Antichrist. She too delivers a very believable performance and where Dunst’s character pulls in and withdraws, Gainsbourg’s Claire goes the opposite route, making very obvious her concern not just about the end of the world but for her family and what not. The supporting efforts are uniformly excellent but Dunst and Gainsbourg really steal the show here and turn in pretty much flawless work and the role reversal that occurs between the two in the last half of the film is fascinating to watch.

    Visually, the opening and closing sequences notwithstanding, the movie is an interesting mix of Von trier’s ‘Dogma’ style handheld camerawork and some more polished set ups. This gives certain scenes a ‘you are there’ feel that are most effective when used in the wedding and reception scenes as they accurately reflect the semi-controlled chaos of a large gathering of family and friends. The more polished shots are the more memorable ones and they bookend the film nicely. Thematically, even if this is a softer Von trier, the film still comes from a very dark place. It isn’t surprising that it doesn’t end on a happy note (remember who made this - did you expect Bruce Willis to show up, gather a crew and save the day?) but the film also deals with our loneliness in the universe and the very worth of our being as a race.


    Melancholia looks excellent in Magnolia’s AVC encoded 2.35.1 widescreen 1080p high definition transfer. Shot on digital video there are obviously no issues with print damage and while some scenes look softer than others, you definitely get the impression that it’s intentional. Generally detail is excellent, particularly in close up shots while color reproduction is strong throughout, particularly in the outdoor scenes. Interior shots are often given a slightly golden hue during the wedding reception scenes due to the interior decorating of the rooms that those scenes take place in. Skin looks nice and natural, black levels are strong and aside from some ringing noticeable during some of the digital effects used in the later part of the film, the image is gorgeous.

    Also impressive is the DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track, presented in English. The classical music used to make up much of the movie’s soundtrack comes through with gorgeous clarity and really helps to emphasize the emotional impact of a few key scenes, though there are spots towards the end where it gets noticeably louder (for impact – it works). Dialogue is crisp and clear in the quiet scenes while the reception scenes involving the rather large crowd of attendees have some nice use of the rear channels to build ambience. There are no alternate language audio options included though there are subtitles provided in English SDH and in Spanish.

    There aren’t as many extras here as you’d expect and the absence of a director’s commentary is a disappointment (especially considering that the British release has one, as well as a few other bits not included here) but About Melancholia, a twelve minute featurette in which von Trier, Dunst, and Gainsbourg discuss their work on the film while psychologist Irene Oestrich talks about the psychology behind the story being told. It’s interesting but could and should have been a bit longer and more in-depth than it is. A seven minute piece on the movie’s visual effects shows how digital technology was used to bring about von Trier’s depiction of the end of the world while the four and a half minute segment entitled The Universe lets the head of the effects team and an astrophysicist discuss the planetary destruction we see depicted in the movie.

    Rounding out the extras on the disc is an HDNet promotional spot for the film, a couple of theatrical trailers, trailers for a few unrelated Magnolia properties, animated menus and chapter selection.

    The Final Word:

    Some more extras would have been very welcome given the depth of the film but this is otherwise an excellent release from Magnolia. The transfer is beautiful and the audio just as strong and engrossing while the film itself is a fairly incredible look at the human dynamic in relation to depression and, yes, ultimately the end of the world. It’s a fascinating picture, a beautifully made film full of amazing visuals and excellent performances – highly recommended.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!