Cannes 2011 Review: Lars von Trier's Apocalypse Film 'Melancholia'

May 18, 2011

Lars von Trier's Melancholia

The apocalypse is coming and Lars von Trier just seems depressed. The controversial Danish director is back in Cannes again, following Antichrist from a few years ago (I was there for that infamous screening) to premiere his latest movie, Melancholia. As one might expect with von Trier, the film has some truly breathtaking visuals, especially the opening sequence and the closing few minutes, but in-between that, there's not much to it. He starts with a big idea, then just lets it slowly trickle out for 130 minutes, ending at the moment everyone is expecting, but without having said much throughout. Sadly, it was underwhelming.

"To me it's not so much a film about the end of the world, it's a film about a state of mind," von Trier said at the press conference following the screening. Melancholia is about a rogue planet that's been hiding behind the sun that is now on a collision course with Earth. But the real story in the film that we get to see focuses on two sisters: Justine, played by Kirsten Dunst, and Claire, played by Charlotte Gainsbourg. Each has their own characteristics - Justine is depressed, Claire is anxious. Von Trier wraps a smaller story around these two characters all the while the planet-collision apocalypse is coming (we do get to see it). The first half is about Justine's wedding and how she's always sad, which ends up bringing chaos and ruin to what was supposed to be her happiest day. Claire's story is about her anxiety when she realizes the planet will hit.

As always when seeing movies in Cannes that address metaphysical ideas, it's tough only having a quick interpretation after the screening. Similar to Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life, this film deals with big ideas about life (on Earth) and our death, while focusing on a much more contained storyline and specific characters. Unfortunately, I found the storyline in Melancholia to be without much meaning, whereas in the 48 hours since seeing Tree of Life, I've already been thinking about how every moment plays into the bigger concept and visuals in that film. It's just not the same here and while the journey we're taken on with von Trier is by no means boring, it doesn't seem like it has that much to say about our death, or the apocalypse.

These are obviously just my own thoughts on the film and I'm sure many others will find more meaning in Melancholia. However, I also think some moviegoers may attempt to find meaning where there is none. It may be because depression and anxiety permeate the film and anyone who has lived with those problems knows that there is only darkness and nothingness that comes from those states of mind. The only meaning I can find in the oddly comical, then very sad, wedding storyline was simply von Trier trying to establish Dunst's character so that by the time the end finally did come, we knew why she was acting so calm and, well, melancholic about all of it. At that point, though, I no longer cared anymore about what had happened.

By no means did I hate Melancholia, and I found the opening and closing moments so beautiful that I could honestly watch those scenes over and over and still be mesmerized, but the story in-between was ultimately forgettable. I must also make mention of the score, as the piece of music he used (consistently throughout) was awe-inspiring on its own, and I can't wait to listen to that music on repeat while contemplating my own life and existence. Additionally, the performances were all great (as was expected again) and even Kirsten Dunst is finally awards worthy in her edgy role. The story may be forgettable, but the visuals certainly not.

Alex's Cannes Rating: 7 out of 10

Find more posts: Cannes 11, Opinions, Review




Oliver JHL on May 18, 2011


I loved Antichrist. And if you rated this 7 of 10, I'll have to see it. Even though I felt betrayed when I saw Thor.

Angry Chief on May 18, 2011


He is depressed, it's a fact.

Davide Coppola on May 18, 2011


I really dislike most of Lars von Triers films, but because Dogville was so damn amazing ill still check it out

Anonymous on May 18, 2011


Who's not depressed?

Daniel on May 18, 2011


Do they all wear clogs in this?

Bondstevebond69 on Jun 1, 2011


My interpretation: The planet Melancholia is a quite straightforward metaphor, is the absolute and absurd disaster that comes with the melancholic state. The castle is a metaphor of the mind of the melancholic, full of different personalities and parallel reactions to that upcoming depression: Justine, physically affected and cynical, Claire anxious and desperate, her husband using reason to avoid the absurd and the ingenuous son. Also the butler, which maintains the order (for example when the husband tries to kick out the mother). Every scene may be understood under this scheme: the horse does not want to cross the bridge and Claire hits him until falls to the floor, the mother sleeps in an emotionally distant room, etc. This also explains why the planet collides when the husband suicides and the butler fails to go to work, the reason and order dissipates and there is only ingenuity, cynicism and desperation (and absurdity). I may go one step further and claim that the castle is Lars von Trier himself, telling us the reality of being a melancholic. Maybe that is why he does not want to tell us the full story.

JC on Aug 10, 2011


like your interpretation! but could you please describe the meaning of not being able to cross the bridge (by horse or golf car) a little bit more!? do u have thoughts about the little boy and perhaps about the meaning of "auntie steelbreaker"?

Jan on Oct 9, 2011


‘I found Lars von Trier had gathered a star cast for a film he intended little performance for.’ Read more about Melancholia at -

Squarise on Oct 23, 2011

New comments are no longer allowed on this post.



Subscribe to our feed or daily newsletter:

Follow Alex's main account on Twitter:

For only the latest posts - follow this:

Add our posts to your Feedlyclick here

Get all the news sent on Telegram Telegram