Melancholia: Depression and the End of the World


I first heard about the film Melancholia (2011) during a radio interview on NPR. It mentioned the artistically beautiful opening of the film and how it was filled with metaphor. That fact and how there was a planet called Melancholia set to crash into Earth was about all that I took away from the radio interview.

Last week, I saw Melancholia in the new releases on a Netflix and recalled the interview so I put it into the queue. Tonight, I brought it up and was surprised. [[spoilers coming]]

Here’s how IMDB.com summarizes the film: “Two sisters find their already strained relationship challenged as a mysterious new planet threatens to collide with the Earth.”

I would rewrite it to say that it is a story of two sisters and how their worlds come to an end. The sisters come from a dysfunctional family and seem to both have some form of mental illness. The story is told in two parts, one for each sister, and are brought together by astral arrival of Melancholia.

Justine, played by Kirsten Dunst, is celebrating her wedding and on her way to her lavish reception with her new husband. Things go wrong from the start and Justine tries to look at things in a bright light, but she beat her demons. In the end of her reception, she ends up unemployed, without a husband and alone. Her Melancholia is an internal struggle against depression.

Claire, the more sensible sister, has married and has a son. They live in a huge house with a golf course, horses, and the whole bit. A real dream.  (Well, it could have been a dream.) Claire’s only struggle seems to be with her sister and her husband’s lack of patience for her family. Claire’s Melancholia is a physical struggle with the on-coming planet. Her end of the world revolves around the loss of her family.

While some may see Melancholia as slow-moving, the story is full of metaphor and connections to art. The movie itself is a piece of artistry. The opening proved to be an excellent summary of elements of the rest of Melancholia. The acting is just as good as the artistry with Claire’s husband played by Kiefer Sutherland.