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Christian Geisnaes/Zentropa

Melancholia

Movies | The opening images of this film are beautiful and terrifying in a way that reminds the viewer why we have movie theaters

Issue: "Border bandits," Dec. 3, 2011

Not only are we all alone in the universe, but the world is likely coming to a sudden and meaningless end. While Melancholia is built on this fatalistic conceit, the film displays moments of breathtaking beauty and pathos. A story of the apocalypse, Melancholia is also an intimate family drama, a portrait of depression, an inverted experiment in epic science fiction, and one of the most interesting films currently in theaters. Rated R for "some graphic nudity, sexual content, and language," the film will provoke many to disagree with its ethos, but to be moved by reflection on its images and content.

Melancholia unfolds as a strained family drama with one major exception: A planet is about to collide with Earth, destroying all life forever. Kirsten Dunst plays Justine, a bride struggling with an existential malaise on her wedding day. Her responsible sister, Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg), plans the wedding and cares for Justine, who collapses into herself, reviving only with a frighteningly serene reaction to news of the astronomical collision. Claire's response, by contrast, is fear and panic. Despite the epic scale of the action, the film tells a grand story through the lens of intimate relationships.

The opening images of Melancholia are beautiful and terrifying in a way that reminds the viewer why we have movie theaters. Melancholia languishes for periods in monotony and self-indulgence but the effort remains fascinating, challenging, and occasionally stunning.

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The story unfolds in a world where melancholy results from over-reliance on relationships, empty rituals, and possessions. Controversial director Lars von Trier presents complex truths despite a fatalistic worldview. Characters seek significance in anything they can-a desperate and miserable condition, but an honest one. It's hard to agree with the worldview von Trier presents, but Melancholia's beauty and honesty about experience of life without an ultimate truth make it worthwhile viewing.

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