WILL STINSON reviews controversial Dutch director Lars von Trier’s amazing new MELANCHOLIA

denmark Film film review kirsten dunst lars von trier review will stinson

Directed by Lars von Trier


The film ends, the credits roll, and I’m sweating like a pig. Lars von Trier, one of Denmark’s most controversial directors, has just ripped my emotions apart and shoved them down my throat. I’m literally gasping, trying to understand the last two hours of my life. Such a physical reaction to any film deserves to be rated highly, but the advertising for Melancholia should most certainly contain a warning of probable side effects.

From its outset, Melancholia, Lars von Trier’s take on the apocalypse genre, captivated me in a state of paralytic bewilderment. Beginning with a Kubrick-esque visual overture of space scapes, surreal litererary references (visualise Kirsten Dunst as Millais’ Ophelia, but naked) and the earth colliding with a mega-planet, it was obvious that Melancholia would be anything but melancholic. Did I mention that this visual feast is set to the heart attack-inducing tune of Beethoven’s’ 9th?

I was naive with my expectations of Melancholia. After all, at the press release for the film Lars von Trier casually stated: “I’m a second rate Jew… I understand Hitler.” Affiliating with the Nazis is not usually beneficial for anything, but this infamous quote actually thrust Melancholia into the heady heights of one of this autumns most highly anticipated films.

After a strong drink, a day of rest and the power of hindsight, it’s clear that Melancholia is an underrated epic that not only firmly places Lars von Trier as one of the best directors of his generation, but also reintroduces Hollywood it girl Kirsten Dunst as a mature and talented actress.

Dunst plays Justine, a troubled woman who descends into a state of internal turmoil on her wedding night when she questions the reality of what happiness entails. Melancholia is an illness with similar symptoms to depression, but in Justine’s case it is highly exacerbated. A year after her disastrous wedding, which included Justine pissing on a golf course, losing her husband and her career, she moves in with her sister Claire (played by the fantastic Charlotte Gainsbourg).

It is revealed that Melancholia is not only a title for Justine, but is also the name of a planet that has been hiding behind the sun and is set on a collision course with earth. This blatant disregard for a single genre propels Melancholia into the beguilingly surreal. However, the stellar performances from the two leading ladies creates a focused and concise piece on the challenges faced by those who suffer from depression, and the effect it has on those closest to them.


Not one character steals the show; perfectly cast, each thespian bounces of the other, creating the most incredible dialogues and poignant emotional tensions that reach out and grab the audience. A glass must also be raised to the visual effects department; their depiction of the destruction of earth is, bizarrely, a thing of beauty. In a way, the cinematography is Melancholia’s saviour. Without artistry and care for special effects, Melancholia could have been a laughing stock (Kirsten Dunst gets naked then the world ends – so what?). However, the removal of all Hollywood style sound effects leaves just the visual engagement of the audience with the film. Focusing on just one sense, Lars von Trier creates an eye-wrenching apocalyptic paradise.

An enigmatic narrative that unfolds the strong message that, whilst the end may be nigh (it is for all of us, eventually, isn’t it?), everyone needs peace of mind to find true happiness. Impeccably created by all involved, Melancholia is bewilderingly enchanting. A must see film for those with a sound state of mind.