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Rene Rodriguez, McClatchy Newspapers, Published December 15 2011

Review: It’s the end of the world, and 'Melancholia' feels fine


Theater: Fargo Theatre

Rating: R for vulgar language, nudity, sexual situations and adult themes

Time: 135 minutes

4 out of four stars

In “Melancholia,” the clinically depressed Justine (Kirsten Dunst), is trying to keep it together on her wedding night: She got through the ceremony, but the reception won’t be as easy. So many photographs. So many people. So many toasts.

Justine’s husband Michael (Alexander Skarsgard of “True Blood”) is doing his best to accommodate his new wife’s mood swings. Her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is also trying to be understanding, but she’s been in this situation before, and her patience is wearing thin. Claire’s husband John (Kiefer Sutherland), who footed the bill for the lavish reception at a posh country club, isn’t quite as understanding: He’s fuming mad.

Oh, and scientists have discovered that a new planet named Melancholia that was hiding behind the sun is going to pass dangerously close to Earth in five days. Some people believe it’s going to crash right into us.

If Ingmar Bergman had directed Armageddon, the result might have turned out a lot like Lars von Trier’s latest movie – the second one born out of the writer-director’s much-publicized bout with depression. The first one, 2009’s “Antichrist,” was an intentionally graphic, shocking, bloody work, as if von Trier had wanted to take his anger and frustration out on his audience. But Melancholia is something entirely different. Von Trier got the central idea while in therapy, when he discovered that severely depressed people would be able to function rationally in the face of incomprehensible doom.

Leave it to von Trier to conceive an intergalactic sci-fi metaphor for a psychological disorder – and then make it work so astonishingly well. The Danish filmmaker has always thought out of the box: His creativity is often so startling, and his joy at working over the audience so enthusiastic, you approach each of his movies with equal parts curiosity and dread. But Melancholia isn’t merely a fiery provocation, nor is it an experimental melding of two seemingly incompatible ideas. Von Trier has thought his conceit through, and his vision was thorough enough to attract a superb cast to join him on his one-way joyride to hell.

As the brittle, impulsive bride, Dunst won the best actress prize at the Cannes Film Festival in May. She is marvelous at depicting Justine’s emotional volatility and petulant behavior: You understand why the people around her are tired of her antics, but you also sympathize with her, knowing she’s being buffeted by forces beyond her control.

The supporting cast is deep, and all the players contribute their unique notes to “Melancholia’s” symphony of dysfunction.

“Melancholia” opens with some staggeringly beautiful images, set to Wagner’s “Tristan and Isolde,” that won’t make sense on first viewing (a horse collapsing to the ground, Justine emanating small lightning bolts from her fingertips) but end up being a preview to the craziness ahead: They’re postcards from the apocalypse.

As “Melancholia” nears its climax, you share the panic and fear the characters are experiencing: This Armageddon feels real, and the decisions the characters have to make are heartbreaking. This is a tremendous, daring movie. Get ready to be rattled.