The term “depression” is thrown around so recklessly by some people that it’s actually insulting to those who are going through it. Most people, especially those who have never experienced it, believe it is when you are feeling down or little sad but in actuality, it’s much, much worse. It is that feeling of numbness & hopelessness that drains out every single feeling and all that’s left behind is an empty shell of a human being.
And the second instalment of Lars von Trier’s Depression Trilogy captures that particular emotional hellhole with startling precision. By far the most accurate depiction of depression I’ve seen on film so far, Melancholia is an incredibly polished piece of work from the controversial filmmaker that is elevated to new heights by Kirsten Dunst’s career-best performance and is undoubtedly one of Trier’s finest efforts.
The story of Melancholia follows Justine who’s struggling to be happy even on the day of her wedding. Her extravagant reception is paid for by her brother-in-law & sister who ask the bride to hide her debilitating melancholy while trying to keep the guests in line. Meanwhile, a rogue planet has entered the solar system and is hurling towards Earth. Predicted to be a close fly-by at first, it soon becomes clear that the two planets will collide.
Written & directed by Lars von Trier, Melancholia opens with a series of composed shots that reveal some of the key elements of the story, after which the main plot surfaces. Trier handles Justine’s arc with proper care, showing depression for what it is, and makes an interesting point about the depressive people’s tendency to act calmer to catastrophic events than others. The artsy stuff isn’t missing but it doesn’t suffocate the narrative by much.
Cinematography employs distinct camera techniques to provide varying depth to different scenes, ranging from virtually still movements to unstable handheld camerawork. But there is a crispness to its images that’s evident throughout. The pacing is unhurried, allowing its 135 minutes narrative to unfold at a steady rate. The VFX team further refines its images & sci-fi elements to give a sophisticated touch to its imagery while the musical choices are apt & fitting.
The highlights however are the performances. The film packs a talented ensemble in Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kiefer Sutherland, Alexander Skarsgård & Stellan Skarsgård, with Dunst & Gainsbourg impressing the most. Playing the part of Justine, Dunst delivers a showcase that’s convincing, memorable & flawless. Gainsbourg provides excellent support in the role of Claire, Justine’s sister, and the bond between the two & the shift in their psyche is what the film mainly focuses on.
On an overall scale, Melancholia is going to strike a chord with everyone who can relate to Justine and is one of the best films of its year. It doesn’t matter if the sci-fi elements aren’t scientifically accurate because that’s not what this film is trying to explore. Its artistic treatment isn’t for all plus the deliberately slowed pace will infuriate some more viewers but its silent rumination on depression & destruction makes it a satisfying sit for those who can patiently connect with it. Worth a shot for Kirsten Dunst’s impeccable performance alone, Melancholia is an arthouse gem.