Thursday, December 29, 2011

Melancholia: Review and Analysis

I haven’t watched a lot of films by Lars Von Trier.  I still haven’t seen his possibly most popular work with Bjork, Dancer in the Dark.  But in the few films I have seen by him, I know this:  Von Trier isn’t about subtlety.  He aims his 2 x 4 straight across the jaw, just to make sure you get it.  Yet this film, as opposed to many of his others, had many subtle touches and was a truly human film, filled with human touches.  The two main characters don’t represent Woman, but are characters we can recognize and appreciate, as extreme as some of their actions may seem.

This is also possibly Von Trier’s most beautiful film.  The first five minutes of surrealistic shots, almost stills, took my breath away.   And though the film then moves quickly into narrative, it is still filled with the most gorgeous shots.  The lighting of the reception moving outside to the grass, the shot of Kirsten Dunst bathing in the light of the coming planet… all gorgeous.  And  Wagner’s score from Tristan und Isolde over it all just inhances the beauty.  Honestly, if you want me to love a film, make it surrealistic, with an amazing score and throw in beautiful images—yeah, it’ll be one of my favorites.

One of the most surprising things about this film is that though it is all about depression—we get that from the title—yet it is not depressing.  It is filled with humor, beauty, and even hope and joy.  Sure, it’s about the end of the world, but that doesn’t mean it has to be sad.  More about depression in the film in the analysis.
A much more straightforward film than Antichrist, but covers some of the same themes, about depression and nihilism.  I think this film might be the key to really “getting” Antichrist, which I will watch again to get the idea of it.  If I finally “get it” then I’ll write my findings in a new post.

Overall, Melancholia was a marvelous experience, excellently acted and brilliantly conceived.   I cannot recommend it to everyone.  If you have had no experience with depression or have never struggled with being overwhelmed by life, perhaps you wouldn’t appreciate it.  But for me, it was an amazing experience, and one I want to have again.  5/5

Below is my analysis of the film, including spoilers.  If you haven’t seen the film, I recommend not reading it until after you’ve seen the film.

As I was leaving the theatre after seeing Melancholia, I heard one woman say to her companion, “That was so stupid.”  And I could understand why.  After all, the film ends with Earth being destroyed and flames engulfing the audience, and finally, complete silence.  This isn’t subtle, nor is it an ending where you have to decide whether it is happy or unhappy.   Frankly, the film makes it clear: it just is.  This is reality.  For many people, this is simply silly.  They have never experienced the end of their world, nor dealt with the depression in which such an end is inevitable.  To end the film in this way is a slap in the face to their sensibilities, a pointless exercise in nihilism. 

But part of what the film communicates is that melancholia is a state of mind, an “illness” that cannot be gainsaid.  Either you have had this state as an experience or you haven’t.  If you haven’t, then such thinking is “stupid”, overdramatic and a rejection of reality.  But if melancholia is a part of you, then it is just how reality looks.   The end is truly nigh, and our body just is preparing for the inevitable.

What is exactly meant by melancholia?  In the ancient world, a melancholic personality is one who has too much of a certain “humor” (or fluid) in the blood.  The melancholic personality is introverted and creative, and when one develops too much of the humor that creates such a personality, then such a person becomes isolated, lack energy and depressed.  This is an early form of what today we call clinical depression.   Technically, clinical depression is usually caused by a lack of serotonin in the brain, which causes one to no longer feel pleasure in everyday experience.  This causes lethargy and a lack of energy.  Such a lack of serotonin can also cause one to be anxious, inflating little fears to inaction.   Depression is sometimes a way of the body indicating that it has had enough stimulation, and that it needs rest.  In chronic depression, the body never catches up on the “rest” it needs, and the victim can spend his or her time sleeping, staying away from people and hiding from anything that might cause stress or stimulation.

Von Trier adds one more layer to melancholia that isn’t usually found in ancient medicine or modern psychology: a philosophical side.  Attached to lack of energy, introversion, and creativity is a nihilism—a confidence that there is, in reality, no hope for life.  All life will end and there is no life or spiritual force that will replace that life when it is gone.   It is true that such hopelessness often accompanies depression, but it isn’t a necessary component of it.  However, what does accompany such depression is a satisfaction that life will end, because once life is over, then so is the stress and one can finally rest.

Obviously, Justine is the melancholic, the focus of the film—and the representative of Von Trier himself.  She has all the indicators of all the layers of melancholia, and Part I lays out exactly what such a condition is.  Justine, is in the midst of the “happiest day of her life” and it is clear that everyone expects her to—nay, demands that she— be happy.  But happiness is not in her nature, and frankly, such a social event with so much planning and detail is a clear trigger for a depressive event, demanding more energy than a melancholic has.  Everyone is disappointed with her, but she has no reserves to meet everyone’s demands.

Finally, she escapes the stress by undermining her entire life.  She publicly has sex with a visitor to the wedding, thus ending her short marriage.  She deeply and publicly insults her boss, thus ending the promotion he just gave her.  The only relationships she retains are those that give her comfort:  her father (who runs from her) and her sister.   In this way, she ends her own world, allowing the thoughts of the inevitability of such an end have their self-fulfillment.  Now she can rest.  There are no more demands.  Disaster is not something to fear, but it is to be embraced.  It is the end which is best met quickly and on one’s own terms.

In Part II, the focus changes.  Now it is about the impending disaster of the planet Melancholia coming to destroy the Earth.  For the characters, there is some ambiguity as to whether the planet will hit, but for us, who has already been given a preview of the event at the beginning of the film, there is no question, and the horses agree with us—the end is inevitable.

There are four responses to this impending doom.  The first is Justine’s.  She is not surprised by the end of all life, she not only expected it, but is content with such an end.  “The Earth is evil” she says, and so it is worthy that all life be destroyed, to be replaced with nothingness.  The funny thing is, that while pressures were being put upon Justine in the first part of the film that she couldn’t deal with, the only truly evil actions in the film are hers (except, perhaps, for John’s selfish end).  “Evil” then, must be a personal definition, not a moral one.  The Earth is evil to her because she can’t deal with it. 

Because of this attitude and approach to crisis, Justine is supremely able to deal with the ultimate crisis.  Her whole life has been in preparation for this very moment, in being able to deal with the ultimate disaster.  She creates the idea of a “magic cave” which will protect them from the coming disaster.  Of course she knows that such a protection doesn’t exist.  But she creates it to ease the anxiety of those around her.   The cave is much like the isolation that she participated in to shield herself from the end of her life.

I think that this is how Von Trier sees existentialism and probably religion.  They are necessary fictions to help the normal human deal with the inevitable, impending disaster.  This is not unlike Jean-Paul Sarte’s view of reality: Nihilism is fact, but we cannot live as if there is no hope or meaning to life.  Thus we have to create fictions, commitments to life, that we surrender ourselves to completely.  It doesn’t delay the inevitable, but it makes life easier to bear in the meantime.

The second response, which is the opposite of Justine’s, is John’s.  He is completely optimistic, he is absolutely confident that life will continue on as normal.  This crisis is simply a bump in life, one of the normal intrusions to the humdrum world that makes life interesting.  He rejoices in the planet, and takes as much pleasure as he can out of it.  Eventually, he expresses his real doubts and finally seeks out the truth of the matter.  When he discovers that Earth will actually be destroyed by the planet, he finds himself completely unprepared to deal with it, and commits suicide.  It is interesting that it is the sanguine John who commits suicide and not the depressive Justine, although in real life it is the depressive that often commits suicide.  The point is that when the world ends, it is the optimistic who can’t deal with reality, not the melancholic.

Another response is the horses.  (Not Leo.  He just follows his father’s response and then Justine’s).  They know that disaster is inevitable, and their first response is panic.  All they want to do is escape it, run away.  Augustine won’t cross the bridge because he knows what is coming there.   But after a time, they calm down.  There is no point to continue panic.  What will happen will happen.  In a sense, the horses reaction is the most logical.

Finally, we have Claire.  In normal life, Claire is the most practical, the one that holds everything together, the one that smoothes out the rough edges, who maintain relationships, who keeps her head in all of life’s little crises.  She is the kind of person who keeps life going.   So the possibility of life abruptly ending is the worst possible outcome, and the one thing she just can’t handle.   Her response to this, appropriately, is fear.  Her husband tells her that she is just anxious, fearing for nothing.  However, we find out later, that he simply just couldn’t deal with her fear in light of his need for hope, so he just denied her the logical response.

When it is clear that the end of life is inevitable, Claire’s first response is to perpetuate life.  Just to stand on the terrace with her sister and son, to drink wine and make small talk.  Justine refuses this, recognizing that when life is ending, such a response is inadequate, and only perpetuates denial, leading possibly to a worse breakdown.  Claire finally accepts Justine’s solution of participating in the “magic cave”, but in the end, the false protection means nothing to her and she remains anxious to the end, recognizing that her worst fears have been realized.

The final question I had about the film is the allegory of the planet Melancholia itself.  Certainly it represents the end of life.  Possibly the end of one’s social life, as what Justine experienced in the first part of the film.  Or perhaps it represents a personal end to life—the inevitability of death for us all. 

But Melancholia represents more than the object which precipitates an impending disaster.   As its name indicates, it is also a representative of depression itself.   Certainly it represented the mental state of impending doom for Justine.  She refused to undress for her husband on her wedding night, nor did she even undress for the young tool she used to end her marriage with.  But for the planet of Melancholia, she completely disrobed and opened herself completely to it.  Depression itself was the joy in her life, that which she could completely surrender herself to.

But is the planet a representation of depression to everyone?  Is the greatest disaster of everyone’s life in the film not the “end of life as we know it”, but Depression itself?  Is John actually denying depression in response to crisis as an option, and when depression comes he commits suicide?  Is Claire fearful of her lack of response to life?  Is she ultimately fearful of losing control, of no longer having the energy or drive to love, to hope, to smooth things out? 

I don’t know that Von Trier intended such a deep metaphor, but it is interesting to think about. 


  1. What a beautiful analysis of it! I too think that people who never have been anywhere close to that state of mind might have difficulties with it. I thought it was fantastic. Especially the end. It's one of the most beautiful endings I've ever seen and I thought it was even hopeful. Just letting go and making our little shelters... isn't that just what life is like? Don't try to fight it. Embrace it.

    It's one of my favorite movies of this year.

    1. Yes, really nice analysis.

      About the conception and metaphor of LVT about “Melancholia is melancholy” : the answer is in the last picture.
      Justine's looking at the spectator. Claire's, as a rabbit in the roadlights, is staring at the eventual disaster. The fear of the disaster simply put her in a catatonic state of no move, no reaction… and make suddenly her useless.
      Melancholia is coming to the spectator, thru Justine's head, which is at the center of the planet.
      One interpretiation of this film is that it is about the projection of Justine's melancholy on her whole world.
      One other interpretation is that her melancholy is caused by his knowledge of the eventualty. She becames mad because she knows.
      But in the hard time, she will be the only one able to look at you with no fear, just a human stare. As in this last scene under the magical cave, and as the photo taken from her dreams, lying dead alive in the pond, but eyes wide open. As Ophelia, in Millais's painting.

  2. I still have a lot of movies to watch from this year (I usually try to catch up on the year's movies in December and January), but this film comes after only Tree of Life as my favorite.

    I think it is a beautiful ending, and yet still disturbing. And yes, I think it is just what life is like... unless impending disaster isn't the end...

  3. Great analysis. I'm not sure I've seen another film that as effectively captures depression/anxiety, certainly without itself being just a complete bummer.

  4. A well-conceived analysis I must say. I recently wrote a short analysis of Melancholia myself and one issue in particular still concerns me. You agree that Justine's Magic Cave was for the benefit of her sister and nephew. In this final act do you think she affirming innocence over stoicism and strength? John's character seemed to represent masculinity; he was confident and controlling, that is until Melancholia revealed how utterly powerless he truly was. Might then Justine, in her attempt to comfort her nephew, represent the feminine principle?

  5. I tend to see the film dealing less with gender-- admittedly, this would be really different for Von Trier, but still. I think of John as the Optimist, thus utterly unprepared for crisis. Clair is Practicality, who is utterly at a loss when the world collapses around her. And Justine is the Depressive, who is emotionally ready for crisis, but not for "real life". Do you think that John really represents the Masculine? Clair's point of view is equally masculine, I'd say. And doesn't Justine's point of view ultimately represent Von Trier's, who is known to be a depressive? I don't know that gender breakdowns work as well here. But I can't say you're wrong, since Von Trier frequently uses gender stereotypes.

  6. I found your analysis very useful and glad that I came across this blog. I am not very good at analysis myself, but I had a little differing viewpoint of the second part after I watched the movie.

    The first part, as you said, Justine struggles to adapt to the social life, the daily life as we know it. But after all the guests leave, she is only left with the ones closest to her in an isolated place. This is when we first see the planet, where it will stay there uncannyly till the end. I thought that in the second part, we enter into her world, which is a bit surreal, depressingly still and where time is ambigious. Even the coloring changes. The others fail to be a part of this world as she percieves, where she appears strong and confident. I may even say that the second part takes place in her mind. You touched these points in your last paragraph of questions, but I am wondering if you would agree to this or found some points that would discard this view, because I am curious about this for a long time

  7. I think you make a fascinating point, umut. If that is the case, we are placed closely into the mind of Von Trier himself who is truly creating this vision from his own experience of isolation and despair. And it is also interesting because if the second half is from Justine herself, then she is the prophetess, who convinces her weak sister that she holds the answers to the universe and she is the strong one at the end, a complete reversal.

    Personally, I think that the narrative holds together too well for this to be the case-- there isn't an abrupt Mulholland Dr. shift. Nevertheless, your theory fascinates me and I wouldn't be surprised to be convinced by it at my next viewing of the film.

  8. I have thoroughly enjoyed your analysis. I have not been moved by a film in this way for a very long time. My initial reaction was emotional. I have vowed to watch it a number of times to dissect my intellectual thoughts upon it. Your review helps me. I had no one else to bounce my ideas upon regarding it.

    Thank you, again.

  9. Great analysis of the film. I just finished watching this a second time and I loved it even more.
    I was wondering what you thought of with the tool John (or Leo) made to check Melancholia's distance from Earth. I loved how Claire used such a small tool to hold on to dear life and when she needed something to look for, she went to the wire and branch. I think that maybe Von Trier was possibly talking about Nietzsche and his ideas in the sense that we all look for a certain "Truth" or some sort of authority figure. When we find that figure we try find comfort in it.
    I just wanted to express my love for that part of the movie. I don't know if you feel if it's that important or not.
    Great analysis again, by the way!

  10. First off, excellent and clear analysis. I was a bit perplexed after viewing the film and I needed something just like this to help clarify my thoughts. I definitely agree with the irony in how the more "realistic" characters in life are unable to cope with Melancholia and eventually makes them more delusional and weak. The boy and Claire are the only two who can hold it together. It is likely that depression is in all of us, but some more at the forefront.

    ** I was wondering how you felt about breaking up the film in 2 parts? Was it necessary? If so, why call part 2 Claire? I still felt like I still followed Justine's POV.

    Thanks again.

  11. Thanks for all the comments. qwerty, I honestly didn't give much thought to the tool, that's an interesting point. I'll have to look at that more when I watch it again.

    Lucas-- I think it helps to split it into two parts, because there is a clear shift at the beginning of the second part. I do agree with the titles, however. Claire is certainly more a central character in the second part, but to name it after her isn't so clear. I think her journey is emphasized in the second part, but overall the film is about Justine's journey. If I were writing (which I didn't and I couldn't and thank you Von Trier for giving us such a wonderful gift), I probably would have called the two parts "Descent" and "Strength" or something like that. But perhaps that would have given too much away.

  12. That's a really fantastic analysis, there's loads there that i hadn't even thought about. And i agree with qwerty that the tool definitely had some sort of significance, although at the time i wasn't sure what.

    I have written my own analysis (albeit a partial one compared to this!) on the film, if you'd care to take a look...

    Again, brilliant analysis, really enjoyed reading it.

  13. fabulous fabulous. Oh I love you all so much for adding on to this fantastic review and giving me more and more to think about and see. It's been long since I saw a movie(or read a novel, where'd they all go?) like this and I am so happy for internet and all you people engaging in this piece of art. I can't thank you enough. I will watch it over and over with a few days in between and read as much in to it as I can. I hate sharing my thoughs about those things, cuz I have learned there are rights and wrongs which is crazy of course but anyhow, this is why I am so greatful to you all. Sorry for taking space without contributing

  14. Well done analysis. I would like to tease out the “That was so stupid.” comment heard at the theater. I am assuming you saw this in a theater in the US, where I think most movie-goers are seeking entertainment, not thought-provoking or difficult ideas. I wouldn't read much into their not enjoying the film; in particular, I wouldn't draw the conclusion that they'd never been depressed, or vice-versa, that only those who have been depressed could truly appreciate the film.

    I hadn't—in the one viewing—picked up on the parallel between Justine's social death in part I with the end of the world in part 2. Very interesting.

    While beautiful and a precious work of art, I worry that this film might encourage a melancholic to be validated in their state and when what few choices that arise do, might encourage him or her to choose to stay in that state, rather than seeking healing. There is healing to be had, and it's in liberating truth in community with healthy people, not in self- or group-deception which heals no one.

  15. Good points.

    I can see your concerns in the last paragraph, but I don't think that is the case. The final act is in the context of the end of the world, not in general. If there is a depressive that uses this film as an excuse to isolate or to wallow in self deception, it is almost certainly because they decided to do that already.

    Personally, I found it liberating to see an artistic version of some of my own experiences, even though Justine made decisions I would never make.

  16. This was incredibly enlightening.
    Thank you.

  17. Life as we know it.. is entwined with sadness, momentary happiness.. reality, is harsh, reality is a blade running through your spine.. this is what it is..
    How can a girl like Justine who has it all be depressed? Are you having what we really want, or what we want others to see that we conform to societal standard of happiness?
    When what we want cannot fit in the capitalist frame, things go wrong. That's where depression comes from.
    Perhaps Justine, confronting and living in peace with depression, is the least fearful of Doomsday.. it's a way to end all the miseries.. for her.. and perhaps for others as well, who are not really facing the fact that depression..
    is deep down inside everyone's heart.

    Good analysis..

    Justine saw it coming..
    she decides to liberate herself..

    End, as we know it..
    Is just the beginning of something known.
    Beauty, is scare,
    in the land of the Dead, silence
    is as golden as the never-coming rays..

    Justine is you,
    is me.. is every soul that longs to be free,
    yet bound to our earthly duties.

    We are already dead,
    just waiting to be physically finished.

    1. That's beautiful. Thanks for sharing.

    2. "Reality is harsh"

      " every soul that longs to be free, yet bound to our earthly duties."


      Thank you for your beautiful words.

  18. It was a rather sympathetic view of depression. Arguably, individuals who have faced the void in their own lives and have dealt with depression are better suited to deal with the doomsday—if not life in general. I would argue that she does not WANT the world to end, but merely understands that the world, and our own consciousness well before that, will end.

    I’ve always said that if you’re not at least a little bit depressed, then something is seriously wrong with you. Depression is probably the most reasonable reaction to life; if you’re not depressed, then you probably don’t understand life.

    Justine is depressed. There is no doubt about that. And so is her mother (who’s lasting impression, for me, is the scene of her doing yoga)...

    *** ...Although, I do not necessarily agree that she is nihilistic or that depression is even about nihilism. I would argue the exact opposite. A true nihilist would not be depressed ***

    If nothing truly matters, then acknowledging and accepting that fact wouldn't make the nihilistic depressed. Value, of some sort, precedes depression: something that can be taken away (e.g., loss of a loved one) or something that can never be gained or achieved. In any regard, it is something worth valuing that is at the core of depression. Even people who commit suicide will leave a note, usually in an attempt to ease their loved ones.

    I think that Justine's interactions with the young boy (who's name I have forgotten), her nephew(?), emphasizes this point quite nicely — that she is depressed but not nihilistic.

    The father kills himself, quite selfishly, and the mother panics, freaks out, and takes the boy for quite the ride, whereas Justine is calm and collective. But she it not only cool-headed; notably, she is the only person that provides the child with hope when she built the "cave".

    If Justine was truly a nihilist, then why would she go to such lengths to not only comfort the child, but to also provide the hope of protection, reassurance, and safety, even when she KNEW that the world is coming to an end? She cared enough to lie?

    Why not act like a nihilist and tell the child that he needs to accept his shitty, meaningless, and short-lived fate. That's the crux of this movie, for me: A) she protects the child, and B) she does not commit suicide, something that is all too common among individuals with depression.

    Yes, Justine is depressed, but probably because she values SOMETHING, something A) worth protecting in others and B) worth "waiting" for. Perhaps facing and accepting one's mortality puts one in a better position to know what it is that is truly valuable and indispensable: Hope. Not money, marriage, or other traditions, but hope.

    (The popular TV series "The Walking Dead" also relies heavily on this point.) Life is nothing without hope. Lars Von Trier does a brilliant job of giving and taking that sense of hope away from the characters and the audience throughout the entire second half of the movie.

    It’s almost like a kind of existential refurnishing, something equivalent to that of Descartes’ method of doubt—where you force yourself to build a “meaning of life” from the ground up—is needed to truly appreciate life. Although, understandably, you're going to come out of it all quite depressed.

    "With or Without God, We Are At The Mercy of What We Cannot Comprehend or Anticipate [and] It Is No Accident That Many Are Consoled In Life By Religion and Few By Philosophy...All Value, From Pleasure To Morality To Beauty, Has A Hollowness, Flatness, and Tragedy Without Hope…We Are Caught Living a Life We Did Not Choose In The Face of a Despair With Which We Would Not Have Chosen Life In The First Place. If We Then Chose Life In Spite of It, It Is Only With a Hope and Expectation Beyond Reasoning."

    — Kelley L. Ross —

  19. There are so many things that can be said about this film but what stands out to me is the horrifying mundaneness of the end of the world. By focusing on the everyday lives of four characters isolated in the countryside, without the noise and distractions a typical end-of-the-world movie would include, von Trier heightens the anxiety with haunting realism. And although the planet Melancholia isn't barreling toward us in real life, we live our lives much like the characters in the movie, playing our roles and focused on banal everyday details although we never really know when our worlds are going to end. When you stop and think about it, it's horrifying on some level, and we all respond to it differently, as beautifully demonstrated by the characters in the film.

  20. Just want to say THANK YOU for writing this!!!
    At this moment I am engaged with a final school project on Lars von Tries "Melancholia" and what would happen with the Earth, if a planet (or something else of this size) hit us.
    Reading this gave me a great deal of inspiration to continue my analysis and intrepretation of the film and courage to work harder on my project! It seems silly, but I just wanted you to know.
    Thank you :)

    1. One of the best things any writer can hear is that they have inspired more writing. We are all kinds co-dependent in that way, I guess....

  21. When you stare into the abyss, and it stares back into you, while the first several moments are certainly awkward and uncomfortable, like everything - you acclimate.

  22. Great piece - and great comments! I've been scouring the web looking to see if it impacted anyone else as hard as it did me. The range of responses is interesting - some identical to mine, others not so much. It brings to mind one of my favorite quotes - "We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are." Anais Nin
    I can't stop watching this film; I've seen it 3 times in the last 2 days and am on my way out to buy the Blu-ray. It has replaced "On the Beach" as my favorite "apocalypse" film (an interesting comparison), and "One from the Heart" as my all-time favorite, and will probably "Avatar" as my most times watched.

  23. This is a great analysis.

    One thing that strikes me is the metaphor of people as planets. Before Melancholia hits earth, it whizzes by all the other planetary bodies but never touches or interacts with them. In a sense, the planet Melancholia is Justine.

    The "Justine" section is full of moments when Justine tries to reach out for help or engage her family and fiance. When she reaches out to her father, he runs away. When she approaches her mother, she cruelly pushes her away. Justine's conversation at the reception with Michael ends in his giving her a trite gift which clearly is meaningless to her and meant to cure clinical depression with a photo. When after the reception she asks Michael to sit with her and presumably talk, he tries to aggressively seduce her. She is unable to make meaningful connections with the people in her life, both due to internal blocks and the behavior of those around her. Her resulting isolation is both a cause and effect of her deep depression and is mirrored in the isolated castle setting.

    As you note, she becomes more energetic and content as the end of the world draws near. My interpretation was that the collision of earth and Melancholia represents the fruition of the human contact she has been craving.

  24. An incredible movie, and a very absorbing analysis and thread. I watched the ending repeatedly, rewinding it back to the last few moments where the three small bodies, encased in their ridiculously flimsy cave of sticks, are overshadowed by the massive (and, at this point, decidedly "unfriendly") planet--what a beautiful and sad and terrifying image. I haven't repeatedly rewound a scene like that in a long time.

    Like one of the commentators above, I also appreciated Trier's decision to actually destroy the planet at the end, as well as his decision to focus on four individuals, in comparison to most other end-of-world films, where the highways are clogged with car stampedes (where are those people always trying to get to anyways?) and where the planet is inevitably saved by a (usually unassuming and ordinary male) hero. Is it the first movie to actually end with the destruction of our planet? It is one of the few, at the very least. An excellent antithesis to Hollywood's apocalypse narrative in that respect. And I'm not making a judgment here necessarily on Hollywood apocalypses: they just serve a different purpose than a movie like Melancholia, but it is really nice to get a glimpse of the other side of the 'Apocalypse coin.'

    Also the first part of the movie, 'Justine' Never have I seen a movie or read a book where the reality of depression/melancholy is so honestly portrayed with such mundane and subtle details: the constant disappearing acts, (like the 'bath time' during her wedding party, so brilliant and beautiful); the long stony stares; the erratic mood swings etc. Justine so desperately wants to feel 'normal' and 'happy', to please everyone, but as the night progresses and she realizes that she cannot hold onto the reigns, that she can never be how others want her to be or how she herself would like to be, she slowly begins a slow dive into herself, into surrender, into isolation, culminating with her sexual encounter on the golf course for all to see: a suicide of the 'character' Justine that she tried to perform for the audience that night.

    I watched the movie right before going to bed and woke up the following morning with its images still haunting has left me unsettled, for sure. I am feeling alone and small today, and slightly disturbed so, obviously something powerful was accomplished with this movie, for me.

    I really enjoyed reading all of the comments here, and thank you to Steve for posting the initial response to the film.

  25. Thanks for writing this analysis! It helped me organize my thoughts after watching the movie. I also think Wagner's Tristan und Isolde was a great choice by Trier.

  26. WOW what a great, in depth and inspiring analysis. Thank you!

    1. Let' not forget that Justine at times was clairvoyant. She tells her sister, "I just know things". She tells her that the earth will end, and soon. She tells her the number of beans in the bottle. It is then that Claire realizes she is telling the truth. How can one go through life knowing the earth is going to end and not be melancholy? In the final scene,the reversal of roles is phenomena. Justine takes charge and is calm and strong. She comforts the child and the look in her eyes when gazing at her sister is a look of love and resignation. She is content that her struggles are over. Claire has lost her ability to control everything and she falls apart. Well done, Lars.

    2. Think of the scenes of them identifying the Scorpio Constellation.
      "Scorpio is a water sign; the element that symbolizes emotion. They possess a certain intuitive nature for reading others' emotions... aspects of the sign can be summarized as psychic and enveloping." wiki

  27. Thanks, arkons. All the comments have been great.

    I just want to let everyone know that I read all the comments and approve their posting-- this keeps spam out.

    1. Arkons: I thought along the same lines as you concerning Justine. I find myself watching this movie again and again... It's just a beautiful piece of work. And one line just brings me to tears each time... "It tastes like ashes." It's like her last major bout with depression was her way of dealing with the impending doom?

      There are just so many amazing layers... I enjoy reading all of the different interpretations.... I read a blog that aligned each character with someone from the Bible... THIS is an amazing, accessible interpretation, great job!

  28. The movie is excellent, keeping the movie aside Melancholia is actually the most discussed paintings of Albrecht Durer. He got very good paintings and the symbols in those paintings are one of the major research topics. You can go through this blog to know more about Melancholia, Albrecht Durer and his paintings.

  29. In regards to the tool-----it is a primitive looking instrument. Maybe, perhaps, it is a symbolism that as human beings we often resort to our primitive views of life, reality , in order to see more clearly. I don't know.....

  30. I appreciated your review. You write well and it's apparent you take pride in your work. Thinker films, like "Melancholia", demand in-depth analyses in order to mine their otherwise hidden value.

    I agree with your analysis in almost every respect. I won't begin an analysis-fight, but just thought I would share that.

    I've written a little about a movie or two when inspiration is sufficient. My all time favorite movie is "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind". Have you written a review of this film? If not, would you consider doing so? I promise, at least, it's a film worth watching, and worth mining.

  31. Thank you.

    I have seen Eternal Sunshine, but I have not written my thoughts on it. I would really need to watch it again (for a fourth time) to gather my thoughts. Perhaps I will do that.

  32. I would very much enjoy it if you did. You seem to have a happy talent for reviews, and if there's any movie I can claim knowledge about, it's "Eternal Sunshine"; so I'd feel entitled to begin a friendly "analysis-war" if it is so called for, and I'd be interested to see if you come up with similar interpretations that I have. Happy writing!

  33. Justine ends up being right about the end of the world, and her preparation for it (living her life in the gloom of her depression) seems justifiable. Fortunately, this is fiction and our planet is not currently doomed to a rendezvous that will end our existence (at least not yet). In the real world the terms of our life are not preordained. This film starts with a wedding, an event in which Justine is constantly reminded that she should be having fun and enjoying. How many people facing depression hear the same thing time and again? In a world without the specter of ultimate finality, such words of advice make perfect sense. We should not dwell on the inevitable end, lest it deny us the ability to enjoy our lives. What this movie did was remove the ambiguity of a lifetime. Given an unavoidable expiration date, everybody in the film is forced to face the facts and terms that Justine has been dealing with her entire life. It levels the field and suddenly Justine's viewpoint is empowered and given relevance. In the end, I believe this was the point of the entire exercise. It removed people from their comfortable norm and put them into the shoes of the dread and gloom filled depressive, placing on these characters all of the weight that comes with such thoughts and feelings. People with depression are often cast as selfish and self-centered. In the end, Claire and John, the practical and the optimist are not there for their son, it is Justine who has the mindset needed to soften the blow.

    Honestly, I almost turned the film off in the first five minutes, it seemed pretentious and overdone... glad I stuck it out.

  34. At the end of the film, when the planet is crushing the earth, for a moment you cant really tell apart Melancholia from earth and the surface of melancholia sort of becomes one with the sky. So I would say that that is why the planet is called Melancholia, because when you see it coming towards the earth and it looks like it actually is the sky, the director sort of conveys the message that the world is melancholia, melancholia is reality, it is all around us. Another message that i think the film conveys is that everyone is alone. And although Clare, Leo and Justin are all together when the catastrophy happens they all face it in a different way.Just my opinion

  35. Thank you very much for such a review. I just wanted to add some of my impressions of the film. First of all, I think it´s a masterpiece of the using of symbols, which is very important for artistic production. Of course the metaphor of Melancholia is very clear but there are lots of hidden things that make the spectator want to find more and more about the meaning of the movie. I just wanted to mention the references to astronomy and astrology that called my attention. Im not an expert about that but I found Antares is the main star of the Scorpio constellation and the fact that Justine feels so strongly attracted to it gives the clue to think that she´s an scorpion, a sign very related to spirituality and creative potential but also to self destruction and sadness, mainly due to their special sensitivity. In fact, she says "I know things", but only after the pressence of Melancholia is evident, which in my opinion is the director´s way of giving aspect about her melancholic state: in spite of suffering she had achieved a better understanding of herself and life itself that not only made her confident about her inner "powers" but also gave her the chance to have a more patient and subtle attitude towards the upcoming disaster than that of her sister and John. In fact, paradoxically, John, the rich and apparently optimistic character who despiced Justine´s illness is the one who finally commits suicide.
    I think that Von Trier, in an anti American mood, states in this film that Melancholia is the menace to nowadays society. We are all vulnerable to it, even kids; but in this film we can see different attitudes towards that situation.

  36. I love reading all of the different interpretations of this film! I really do agree with a lot that has been said, really thoughtful and thought provoking comments! However, I had a different interpretation of Claire as the sister to Justine representing the sister of depression, anxiety.As anyone who has suffered from depression knows,anxiety often proceeds or follows a bout with depression.Also, when one you love and care for is depressed, it often puts you in the role of caregiver, causing you great anxiety and stress,forcing you to try to control the situation, as you see Claire trying to do in the entire film. You then see John trying to control Claire's anxiety.I wondered if the planet Melancholia destroying the world and the futility of trying to control the end of the world mirrors the futility of Claire trying to control Justine's Depression?

  37. Hello Steve Kimes, thanx for sharing your thougts, at first. Most of your writing i do underscribe, share with you. But now i have the disire to share a thougt with you, in my experience watching Melancholia, yes wich i did yesterdag 29 november 2013, this is what you write;

    "But happiness is not in her nature, and frankly, such a social event with so much planning and detail is a clear trigger for a depressive event, demanding more energy than a melancholic has. Everyone is disappointed with her, but she has no reserves to meet everyone’s demands."

    Well steve in my experience Justine was aunty steelbreaker, and aunty steelbreaker she was. Would it be Stupid to put that Melancholica was in her prime? anyway, iam going to read further from this alinia, now that i have shared a reaction,


  38. It's one of the most beautifully haunting films I've ever had the honour of experiencing.

    Personally, I fully understood how validating the end of the world felt. How satisfying and purposeful it was. I admit that I had hoped for our world to prophetically end in 2012. Every listless cell within me would make sense if it did. Everything was winding down to this demise, so suddenly my sadness wasn't pointless after all. I was very disappointed when I woke up alive on December 23rd 2012. I had nothing to live for, no ambitions, no hope. There are a few people who do love me. So they truly are my only reasons to keep going. I wouldn't end my own life, partly because of them. And largely because death will come to all men and stars eventually. So I welcome the end of my life, or our Earth, with open arms.

    Perhaps Justine felt the same.

  39. Kind of late to the discussion but I think it’s interesting that each character in the second part of the film is associated with a planet, as depicted in one of the shots of the opening sequence where Claire is standing directly under Melancholia, Leo is under the moon, and Claire is under the sun. John cannot be seen, though I'm assuming he's earth.

    I also believe that each character represents one of the four elements as well (water, fire, air, and earth). In the film, Melancholia is said to be part of the Scorpio (water element) constellation, which ties back to Justine. Leo is fire (In astrology, Leo is a fire sign). Claire is air ("Claire” even rhymes with “air”) and John, again, is earth.

  40. This movie has the best last 10 minutes. I watched this late at night, when the movie ended, I was impacted. Wow! I woke up thinking about the effect the collision had on these people. How the most troubled, at the end, was most stable.
    I understood her foreboding, her descent into numbness. And then, there is no God. But her nephew, she made him as safe as she could. She became sane. She understood.