Melancholia 2011 - Plot & Screenshots
The film begins with an introductory sequence involving the main characters and images from space and introducing many of the film's visual leitmotifs. The film continues in two parts.
Part One: "Justine"
Newlyweds Justine and Michael arrive two hours late to their own reception at the family estate where Justine's sister Claire and her husband John reside. Justine happens to notice a particularly bright red star in the twilight sky which John identifies as Antares. Over the course of the evening, Justine is frustrated by various personal and professional difficulties. Her mother, Gaby, insults her in a toast.
Justine's boss repeatedly harasses her to write better ad copy. Claire becomes frustrated with Justine and chastises her for not reacting to the reception with the joy she had anticipated. Justine drifts away from the party several times. Michael attempts to console Justine with a wedding present an apple orchard but Justine seems unmoved.
When she and Michael retreat to their room for the evening, she brushes off his advances and goes walking on the grounds where she has sex with a coworker. At the end of the party, Michael abandons her. At dawn the next day, Justine reluctantly goes horseback riding with her sister Claire when she notices that the bright red star has disappeared.
Part Two: "Claire"
Justine has become severely depressed and stays with Claire and John. Justine is in fact almost catatonic and unable even to bathe herself. John explains that the reason for Antares' disappearance was the rogue planet Melancholia blocking the star from view. Melancholia, a large blue planet that had formerly been hidden behind the sun, becomes visible in the sky as it approaches ever closer to Earth.
John is excited about the planet and looks forward to the "fly-by" predicted by scientists. Melancholia's first approach and final collision with Earth, as described (and shown briefly in a similar diagram) in the film. Claire becomes very fearful that the end of the world is imminent in spite of her husband's reassurances that everyone will be safe.
She searches the Internet and finds an article predicting that the movements of Melancholia around the Earth will bring the two planets into a full-on collision soon afterward. Justine claims to possess a kind of special insight or intuition. She tells Claire that life on Earth is evil and that Melancholia is here to bring it all to an end. On the night of the fly-by it seems that Melancholia will merely pass very near without striking the Earth.
The next day, however, Claire realizes that Melancholia is circling back and will collide with Earth after all. She searches for John and finds him dead of an apparent suicide. Faced with the impending collision, Claire becomes distraught and suggests getting together on the terrace with wine and music. In response, a surprisingly calm and upbeat Justine dismisses her idea before going to comfort Claire's son, Leo.
She makes him a protective magic teepee on the lawn of the estate. Justine, Claire and Leo enter the rickety wooden shelter as the planet Melancholia looms large. In the final seconds, a shockwave with fire overcomes the characters, destroying the Earth, as shown in the introductory sequence.
The film has received mostly positive reviews; it maintains a 77% "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with the consensus: "Melancholia's dramatic tricks are more obvious than they should be, but this is otherwise a showcase for Dunst's acting and for Lars von Trier's profound, visceral vision of depression and destruction."
Kim Skotte of Politiken wrote that "there are images – many images – in Melancholia which underline that Lars von Trier is a unique film storyteller", and "the choice of material and treatment of it underlines Lars von Trier's originality."
Skotte also compared it to the director's previous film: "Through its material and look, Melancholia creates rifts, but unlike Antichrist I don't feel that there is a fence pole in the rift which is smashed directly down into the meat. You sit on your seat in the cinema and mildly marveled go along in the end of the world."
Berlingske's Ebbe Iversen wrote about the film: "It is big, it is enigmatic, and now and then rather irritating. But it is also a visionary work, which makes a gigantic impression." The critic continued: "From time to time the film moves on the edge of kitsch, but with Justine played by Kirsten Dunst and Claire played by Charlotte Gainsbourg as the leading characters, Melancholia is a bold, uneven, unruly and completely unforgettable film."
Steven Loeb of Southampton Patch wrote, "This film has brought the best out of von Trier, as well as his star. Dunst is so good in this film, playing a character unlike any other she has ever attempted, that she won the award for Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival this past May. Even if the film itself were not the incredible work of art that it is, Dunst’s performance alone would be incentive enough to recommend it."
Sukhdev Sandhu wrote from Cannes in The Daily Telegraph that the film "at times comes close to being a tragi-comic opera about the end of the world," and that, "the apocalypse, when it comes, is so beautifully rendered that the film cements the quality of fairy tale that its palatial setting suggests."
About the acting performances, Sandhu wrote: "all of them are excellent here, but Dunst is exceptional, so utterly convincing in the lead role – trouble, serene, a fierce savant – that it feels like a career breakthrough. Meanwhile, Gainsbourg, for whom the end of the world must seem positively pastoral after the horrors she went through in Antichrist, locates in Claire a fragility that ensures she's more than a whipping girl for social satire."
Sandhu brought up one reservation in the review, in which he gave the film the highest possible rating of five stars: "there is, as always with Von Trier's work, a degree of intellectual determinism that can be off-putting; he illustrates rather than truly explore ideas."
Peter Bradshaw, writing for The Guardian, called the film "clunky" and "tiresome", judging it to be "conceived without real passion or imagination", and not "well written or convincingly acted in any way at all", and gave it two stars out of a possible five.
Dunst received the Best Actress Award at the closing ceremony of the Cannes Film Festival. The film won three awards at the European Film Awards for Best Film, Best Cinematographer (Manuel Alberto Claro), and Best Designer (Jette Lehmann). The US National Society of Film Critics selected Melancholia as the best picture of 2011 and named Kirsten Dunst best actress.
The film was also nominated for four Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Awards: Best Film – International; Best Direction – International for von Trier, Best Screenplay – International also for von Trier, and Best Actress – International for Dunst. Film Comment magazine listed Melancholia third on its Best Films of 2011 list.