[Moving picture of popcorn]

Laramie Movie Scope:

A pessimist's wet dream

[Strip of film rule]
by Robert Roten, Film Critic
[Strip of film rule]

November 24, 2011 -- The title of this movie “Melancholia” is a dead giveaway on several levels. With a name like that, you know this film isn't going to be in any way inspiring, uplifting, fun, entertaining or positive, and it isn't. You also know, from the title that this is at least intended to be an art film, which in some circles at least, is a license to bore. What you don't get from the title is that this is a very un-scientific science fiction film, or that it is an anti-intellectual film, anti-life, anti-earth film, too.

The opening seven minute sequence of this film is filled with astonishing images that are at times magical, at other times disturbing (dead birds falling from the sky, dying horses, etc.). This sequence foreshadows the events to come, including the total destruction of the earth, just to make sure there are no surprises of any kind in store for the audience. One tip-off is the Ophelia-like image of the heroine floating away in dark water. If only she disappeared that fast. The rest of the film is a less elegant regurgitation of those first seven minutes.

The rest of the film is split into chapters, the first of which is devoted to the heroine of the story, the creepy bride, Justine (played by Kirstin Dunst of the “Spider-Man” movies). Justine is marrying a man she clearly doesn't love. In fact she can barely manage to get out of bed to attend her own wedding due to her melancholia, but she does have the energy to escape from her husband, leaving him alone on their wedding night bed in order to have anonymous sex with a wedding guest in the sand trap of a golf course. Now that is classy, and itchy. She also tells off her evil boss and loses her job on the same night. Justine's mother, Gaby (Charlotte Rampling of “Never Let Me Go”) doesn't believe in marriages and refuses to come out of her room for her daughter's wedding reception. Justine's brother-in-law, John (Keiffer Sutherland of the TV series “24”) is outraged, asking his wife Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg of “21 Grams”) “is everybody in your family stark raving mad?” Good question, except it is an insult to Claire.

John is especially angry because he is footing the bill for the ridiculously expensive wedding, including a huge stretch limo that can't negotiate the narrow, winding road to the wedding site, John's enormous mansion, complete with an 18-hole golf course. The wedding planner is also furious. This is probably the worst investment John, an extremely wealthy man, has ever made (he was probably unaware of my wedding theorem that the length of a marriage is inversely proportional to the cost of the wedding). Justine and her mother could be excused for taking baths in the middle of the festivities, which seem to go on forever. This includes a prize for guessing the number of beans in a container. This interminable wedding party takes nearly half the film at over one hour, but it seems longer than that. It is made even more unbearable because so many guests seem to hate each other. These are not the kind of people you want spend time with at a party.

Once you get past the wedding, the film improves slightly in the second half as a giant planet called Melancholia is discovered hurtling towards the earth. Nobody, except Justine, noticed it before because it was “hiding behind the sun.” This, of course is impossible for a number of reasons (for more on the scientific absurdities in Melancholia, they are outlined in a separate article linked here, Science nonsense in Melancholia. Most of the earth's top scientists say Melancholia will pass close to the earth, but the two planets will not collide. Justine, however, knows the end of the world is at hand based on her intuition. She knew this on her wedding night, which may be why she acted as if nothing mattered anymore. John is sure the earth will survive. Claire sees web pages on the internet about the impending end of the world, a “dance of death” of the two planets and begins to prepare for the worst. Even the butler quits, wanting to spend his last days with his family.

John is convinced the earth will be safe and that the “fly by” of the planet will be a spectacular sight to behold. John is an astronomy buff with a large, expensive-looking refractor telescope in the yard. Justine, who is in such a funk she sleeps all day and doesn't have the energy to take a bath, begins to perk up and get stronger as Melancholia gets closer. She tells Claire, “I know things.” Among the things she knows are that the earth will be destroyed soon. She knows the exact number of beans (678) in the bottle at the wedding, by intuition. She knows the earth is evil and that won't be missed in the universe. She knows the earth is the only planet in the entire universe with life on it. In fact, she knows none of this because she is insane. There is an easy way to fix this little problem with the script. I'll get to it in the epilogue of this review.

The message of this movie is clear. People are scum and we all deserve to die. The earth is evil and deserves to be destroyed. The earth is the only place in this, or any other universe, which has life, and it won't be missed if it is destroyed. I'm not scum. I don't deserve to die. Even Dick Cheney and the neighbor's dogs, deserve to live. The odds are very much against this being the only place in all the universe where life exists, given the billions of other planets there seem to be.

The science of this movie is wacky, on so many levels. How is it as a drama? It is a lot more successful as a drama, but it suffers from a dearth of tolerable characters. There are too many characters who are really mean-spirited people that I would cross the street to stay away from. Claire and her son, Leo (Cameron Spurr) are nice enough, but they are overshadowed by Justine and all the other creepy characters in the film. It has a pessimistic hero that pessimists may be able to identify with. Scientific illiteracy would help one to appreciate this film. It might also help if you have contempt for the entire world and the human race and every living thing on it. Me? I couldn't wait for it to be over. It rates a D. There are some neat-looking images, however, if you can get past the annoying excessive camera motion in most scenes.


There is an easy fix for all the scientific absurdities in this film, and that is of course that Justine wakes up at the end of it to find out it is all a dream (a nightmare for the rest of us, a nice dream for her) or a hallucination. My dream ending would have Justine waking up in a mental hospital like the one in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest” with a couple of doctors standing over her, saying “Poor girl. She's gone off the deep end again. Let's see if electroshock therapy helps.” This would, of course fix all the film's many scientific problems, but it would not allow for the triumph of insanity over reason, which, unfortunately, seems to be its goal.

Another fix would be to introduce a supernatural element into the film. If the destruction of the earth is a result of divine intervention, god's will, then you can discount the film's blatant violation of Newton's laws of motion (for more about that, click here, for the Science nonsense in Melancholia article). There are hints of this in the film when the story suggests the earth itself is “evil.” The film's view of the universe is also medieval in some ways. If the earth is evil, then perhaps it deserves the death penalty. That seems way harsh, for the reasons stated above, but this allegorical interpretation makes more sense than trying to view this movie as simile, syllogism or metaphor, at least in the classical sense of those terms. The problem is this movie doesn't present itself as an allegory. It presents itself as a straight drama with overtones of dumb science fiction. That is a real problem.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

[Strip of film rule]
Copyright © 2011 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
[Strip of film rule]
Back to the Laramie Movie Scope index.
[Rule made of Seventh Seal sillouettes]

Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)