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Melancholia: Abstract Portrayal of Depression and Fear
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.
They would try anything as if they had no fear of failure. They weren’t afraid of screwing up because the process and the act of creation were the important parts; if the product ended up sucking it was no big deal because they’d already be at work on the next piece. At least that’s the vibe that the documentary gives off. It also helps that the modern day, grown-up No Wavers seem every bit as cool as they did back then.
While driving home from a party one night, Rhoda (Marling) hears on the
radio that another Earth has been found in our solar system and that it is
visible in our sky. While staring out of the window mesmerized by the sight,
she crashes into a car killing a wife and kid while leaving the husband in a
Flash forward to four years later; Rhoda is out of prison, feeling immensely guilty and doing community service as a janitor in a high school. She tracks down the husband, John (Mapother), who is now out of the coma and drinking away his depression. Trying to apologise, Rhoda’s nerves let her down at the last minute when she tells him that she’s actually there to clean his house. As a weekly fixture in his house, she tries to make his life a bit easier to alleviate her guilt and they end up falling for each other. Rhoda enters a competition to win a seat on the first flight to ‘Earth 2’ when she hears the theory that it only became visible when it’s synchronicity with ‘Earth 1’ was broken, i.e. there was another Rhoda up there who may never have gotten into that car crash in the first place.
Clearly made on a micro budget, the film’s biggest accomplishment is its
mood. It cycles through feelings of remorse, melancholy, depression, loss and
hope, all while keeping the fact that we’re nothing but tiny particles in a
vast universe front and centre. The acting, music, sparseness of the dialogue
and the camera’s tendency to focus on minute details really ratchet up the
film’s atmospheric quality so that it stays with you for a while after you’ve
The film’s haunting visuals and editing style, while incredibly simple, are very powerful and the shots of ‘Earth 2’ in the sky are deeply unsettling. Unfortunately the mood is severely tested when the characters speak, which thankfully isn’t often. The dialogue is trite and the characters tend to speak in metaphors and clichés.
Marling in particular does a fantastic job. Her guilt is palpable as is her naive hope that she could possibly make it up to John. She’s so expressive without saying a single word. Mapother also does a good job as the grief stricken, alcoholic John. When they start to bond and he falls for Rhoda though, his change just seems artificial and insincere.
Another Earth blends its sci-fi aspects perfectly with the human drama. ‘Earth 2’ and its alternate universe represent the hope of Earth’s guilty and depressed. Worth seeing for the mood alone.