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Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Michael (Alexander Skarsgård) celebrate their marriage at a sumptuous party in the home of Justine's sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and brother-in-law John (Kiefer Sutherland). Despite Claire's best efforts, the wedding is a fiasco with family tensions mounting and relationships fraying. Meanwhile, a planet called Melancholia is heading directly towards Earth threatening the very existence of humankind...
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It seems to me this movie even pokes at the “dumbed-down” joke that Hollywood has become, and I admit, I was impressed by the way it provoked my expectations only to smack me in the face repeatedly with unrepentant hours of story-line legitimacy.
I'm convinced that Lars von Trier sees a swath of reality and human nature that go conveniently ignored by the majority, and I’m LOVING the artful way he holds that “reality mirror” up for all to see …in a world ruled by reckless souls, honestly, it's a wonder we're ALL not dooms-day depressed.
As the name implies, this is NOT a ‘feel-good’ movie. If, after watching, you are more impressed than depressed -especially if you came away with a rare refreshing sense of affirmation- we may be of the same harmony-conscious ilk, and I’d seriously like to buy you a beer and discuss.
*** Here be Spoilers ***
If, as one reviewer said, Justine is a play on Artemis, then John Hurt is excellent as her philandering Zeus father, distant and unreachable; while Charlotte Rampling's Hera is bitter and scolding, mocking the celebration (as we do, and the movie itself does) as ludicrous.
Or, Justine is the witch Isolde portended in the Wagner; using craft and potions and wiles to make her way through men. If Claire binds in love, then Justine complements her in death. All we're lacking is Jessye Norman.
The movie's central device is the planet Melancholia, which makes a brief appearance in the first part, then dominates in the second as it appears to be on a collision course with the Earth.
The second half of the movie belongs to Claire, the patient obsessive-compulsive wife-mother-sister who copes with her sister's clinical depression while trying to contain her dread at the coming calamity. Sutherland's dinner toast "to life" brings home Justine's Cassandra-like proclamation that, indeed, Earth is life, and of the universe, all the life therein. All of the terror centers in Claire as the planet Melancholia swings past in its near-miss in the middle of the night, while Justine is incapable of bringing herself to care either way. The next morning is bright and cheerful but underscored by the moodiness of her husband, and her renewed terror on discovering that Melancholia is circling back to strike its fatal blow at Earth.
The final scene as the three create a magical cave and sit, holding hands, is a creation of immense beauty.
The acting is superb. Gainsbourg's terror is palpable; Dunst's progressive misery, inescapable. Photography is a bit too shaky for my liking, but it uses that to become intensely intimate. Melancholia itself is awesome.