*If you want to go into this film cold, I would suggest not reading this review and waiting until after you've seen it to see what I have to say. There's a level of detail I want to go into that having to dodge spoilers prevents. I also reveal plot information about other films by Lars Von Trier. Of course, just in case you're curious and read on anyways, I've supplied a plot summary.*
Lars Von Trier continues to deal harshly with humanity in his work. "Dogville" saw the vindictive main character massacre the residents of the town that brutally mistreated her. "Antichrist" (which I have yet to see in its entirety, fwiw) was not shy in its violent sexual content. And in "The Five Obstructions," he subjected a former hero of his, Jorgen Leth, to tortuous filmmaking exercises in order to prove that the man who made "The Perfect Human" was not indeed perfect. I'm not critical of his employment of these (in some light, perhaps) nihilistic events, however. In continuing to wield a heavy hand, Von Trier sheds light on some unsavory attributes of mankind: our capacity for horrible acts and our burning need for closure and revenge, mostly. He may be obvious (he's been criticized for it), but his output is all the more powerful for it.
In "Melancholia," Von Trier settles on obliteration as the fate of his leads (and, to be sure, all the souls on Earth). And this time, though I can definitely admire his precision and control with his ideas, it's hard for me to say what he's doing. The people of the world are seriously down in the dumps, and things are not helped by a planet called Melancholia crashing right into the Earth. I get that. But the purpose of the movies that came before feels a lot less present. Von Trier seems to think he's making a parable (he's limited the setting to an expansive mansion in the middle of nowhere and its surroundings, and limited the events to a wedding and a visit not soon after), but the key element, the lesson or statement, was neglected.
Yet, as I noted before, on a surface level I liked what LVT was doing. Ultimately the film is structured around the decision to have the world end or not. I found the last image of the film incredibly cheesy. That being said, the film would have possibly felt like a surrender to convention if the director hadn't had the determination to orchestrate such a explosive moment. LVT's level of control and detail is also enthralling: he focuses intensely on the ensemble cast, though especially on Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg (who have marked sections of the film dedicated to their characters, Justine and Claire). The film also looks beautiful, courtesy of the glossy, intoxicatingly lit cinematography by Manuel Alberto Claro.
The movie follows Justine (Dunst, who won Best Actress at Cannes for her punishing work) from one of the highest heights of human elation (getting married) to one of the lowest lows (severe depression). One of the first scenes, where her wedding limo gets caught on a narrow road on the way to the reception, shows her laughing with her husband Michael (Alexander Skarsgard). But as she arrives (late) to the party (filled to the brim with characters) and carries on increasingly more slugglishly with the elaborate proceedings set up by her overplanning sister Claire (Gainsbourg, who won Best Actress at Cannes two years ago for appearing in a Von Trier work), things are clearly wrong. In the sky, this is mirrored: the stars get out of line, and Melancholia looks to be coming closer (indicated by Claire's rich and astronomy-fancying husband John, played by Kiefer Sutherland).
This is an interesting scenario, purposefully directed as stilted and made ever the more drawing by the opening barrage of possible outcomes at the end of the world (i.e. you want to see the route between Point A and Point B). But in the end, it's not a whole lot more than that, and thus I will forget it a lot sooner than I will other cinematic creations by Von Trier. The precision on display should be appreciated, but to me that doesn't mean all that much in the end. C+