Melancholia is split into two parts. The first focuses on Justine (Dunst) and how she attempts to juggle her depression and her wedding with Michael (Skarsgard). The second focuses on her sister, Claire (Gainsbourg), and her anxiety that Melancholia, a planet that has newly changed its path, will crash into Earth, instead of flying by as her scientist husband, John (Sutherland), confidently believes.

The film opens with a succession of slow motion, almost static images portraying the protagonists’ deepest fears. With its dramatic score, lush imagery and sedate pace, it foreshadows the film, setting it up beautifully.

Melancholia is a film about depression. The first half shows how Justine’s depression affects her ability to lead a normal life; how even the smallest things, such as taking a bath; require an astronomical amount of effort on her behalf. It also shows just how her (rather dysfunctional) family view her condition. While most of them are aware that her depression isn’t an ordinary case of the blues, they don’t seem to fully appreciate that she’s suffering from an illness, repeatedly imploring her to pull herself together and stop embarrassing them.

Dunst shines here as a woman who is trying to live a normal life yet can’t ignore the sense that she is being emotionally crushed. She smiles, laughs and puts on a happy show yet the slightest animosity can nullify her efforts. She struggles to keep her demons at bay yet there comes a point where all she can do is succumb and rely on her only source of help and sympathy, her sister.

Claire’s half makes overt what Justine’s half dealt with internally. Claire’s sense of dread has a definite source in the impending doom represented by planet Melancholia’s change of path. Faced by this imminent threat, the two sisters’ views regarding life’s worth are thrown into stark relief. Justine, for whom life is an everyday struggle due to her depression, is able to treat the threat in a cavalier way. Death isn’t so much of an abstract for her the way it is for Claire. Justine’s future doesn’t extend past toiling through the present, unlike Claire who has the luxury of being able to dream and fantasize about her and her family’s future.

The connection between the two sisters shifts over time. The two obviously share a rather fraught relationship though in the context of their family, their bond is the most functional. The support they offer each other is tempered by the degree to which they trivialize the other’s problems, and their relationship shifts from unconditional to tough love to outright scorn. It’s a wonderfully complex, subtle relationship. T

he film’s relaxed pace, earthy tones and gorgeous sets and framing help keep the focus on the central relationship, complementing rather than overpowering it.

More poetic than gloomy, Melancholia explores the dynamics of living with and confronting one’s demons. In its honesty, it’s absolutely haunting.