Melancholia Movie Explained: What’s the Story Behind?

Catastrophe as liberation and other ideas of the film Melancholia (2011): the plot and meaning of the film by Lars von Trier, explanation of the ending, essence, similar movies

Country: Denmark, Sweden, France, Germany

Genre: drama

Year of production: 2011

Directed by: Lars von Trier

Actors: Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Alexander Skarsgard

tagline: “Enjoy it while it lasts”

Awards and nominations: The film won the Cannes Film Festival in the nomination “Best Actress”

Starting work on a new picture, Lars von Trier mentioned that he had never filmed anything like this. Having got acquainted with the tape, the audience generally agreed with this. Each of them found their own meaning of the film “Melancholia” (Melancholia). Some saw a psychological disaster film with hints of science fiction, while others saw a symbolic aesthetic drama-symphony about how the human psyche reacts to a meeting with a global disaster.

What is the movie about

A brief description of the content of the picture. In the center of the plot of the film “Melancholia” are two sisters – Claire and Justine. Compositionally, the tape is divided into two equal parts.

Charlotte GainsbourgKirsten Dunst played the role of Justine and Charlotte Gainsbourg starred as Claire. Frame from the film.

The first of them is dedicated to Justine and begins with a luxurious wedding of a girl that Claire organized for her, and all the expenses associated with this were paid by her wealthy husband. Her friends, relatives and colleagues gather at the celebration, which is held in an old castle.

It so happened that the heroes of the occasion cannot get to the castle and because of this they are very late for the celebration. On the way, Justine sees the planet Antares from the constellation Scorpio, which is inexorably approaching the Earth … When the bride and groom eventually arrive, they are met by a very angry and tired Claire.

However, soon everything is getting better – the guests congratulate the young and have fun. However, the girls’ parents are not at all happy about this wedding. The mother honestly admits that she hates celebrations of this kind and is waiting for an opportunity to leave, and the father has fun in his own way – flirting with Justine’s friends and fooling around with might and main. The key to this behavior of parents is that both do not have warm feelings for her. Justine has always known about this, but nevertheless she is very upset.

Soon the wedding begins to annoy her too, and she leaves the guests every now and then. Noticing this, the groom tries to calm her down and says that he loves, but everything has already gone downhill.

Kirsten DunstStarring Kirsten Dunst. Frame from the film.

The situation is heating up: Justine’s mother closes herself in the bathroom and refuses all requests to go out to the guests. Excited to the limit, the girl tries to somehow save the wedding, but the boss, who is also present at the celebration, demands that she (Justine, a copywriter) “give out” an advertising slogan to him as soon as possible. Justine tries to find support from her father, but he leaves without saying goodbye to anyone. The girl quarrels with her fiancé and is rude to her boss, who informs her that she is fired.

Claire also arranges a debriefing for her – after all, Justine ruined the holiday, on which she, according to her, spent a fortune. The sisters do not understand what is happening, but subconsciously feel that some kind of catastrophe is coming.

The second half of the tape tells about Claire, who lives in a luxurious castle with her husband and son. They live calmly and happily, but one day a young woman hears that the planet Melancholia is approaching the Earth. According to preliminary data, the planet will fly very close and there is a danger of a collision. Despite her husband’s attempts to calm her down, Claire is almost in a panic.

At this time, Justine, who is in severe depression, comes to visit her sister. While her husband is absorbed in studying the trajectory of Melancholia, Claire takes care of her sister, but there is no point in this – she is fading before our eyes. Meanwhile, the planet Melancholia is approaching the Earth decisively and at a very high speed …

Melancholia Ending explanation

Movie ending explanation. Toward the end, the heroes realize that a big trouble has come: the electricity is turned off, nature seems to be going crazy. Claire’s husband dies by her own hand, and she herself tries to save at least something. However, all her efforts are in vain…

The only person who remains calm is the sick Justine. Moreover, she is sure that everything that happens has a special meaning and even seems to rejoice at the coming apocalypse.

In a conversation with a frightened sister, she gives her own interpretation of the events: in ancient times, God did away with Sodom and Gomorrah. Now history is repeating itself, only now the whole Earth is subject to destruction, on which there has been nothing good for a long time. She urges her sister and nephew not to be afraid – after all, the end of the world is inevitable anyway. And so it happens: as a result, Melancholia collides with the Earth, and our planet dies as a result of a monstrous explosion.

The meaning of the ending of the film “Melancholia” has several interpretations. According to one of them (the simplest), it lies in the fact that it is pointless to fear death, because sooner or later it comes to each of us.

There is also a more complicated version. Taking into account the fact that “Melancholia” is a typical art house saturated with various symbols, everything that happens should be understood as one big metaphor.

bride and groomFrame from the film.

Justine is melancholy, and Claire is her antipode. Justine is not afraid to die, because she was waiting for a catastrophe that could save her from earthly suffering. Claire is a typical pragmatist and materialist. She lives here and now and therefore is afraid to die.

If for Justine death is a long-awaited unity with the cosmos, then for Claire it is simply the end and horror of eternal darkness. In the face of the sisters, the director probably tried to show the conflict of two worldviews – religious and materialistic. He, as always, does not draw any conclusions, leaving this right to the viewer.

The meaning of the film Melancholia

Von Trier got the idea for his new film during a session with a psychotherapist who helped him overcome another depressive episode. In particular, the trigger was the doctor’s phrase that depressed people react more calmly to difficult situations – after all, they are constantly in anticipation of some kind of catastrophe and, as if “foreseeing” it, are better prepared for it.

Trying to develop an interesting idea, the director firmly decided that he would shoot a sci-fi thriller with a philosophical filling. But he succeeded … what happened.

In the 16th century, a comet appeared in the sky, which contemporaries mistook for the planet Saturn. Emperor Maximilian I took her convergence very painfully and, as legend has it, it was for him that Albrecht Dürer created the famous engraving “Melancholia”, on which he depicted the threat.

planet MelancholiaFrame from the film.

Von Trier’s painting refers specifically to this engraving. And in general, here you can see a lot of allusions to world art – in particular, to the “Forester’s Daughter” by D.E. Millet, “Hunters in the Snow” and “Lazyland” by Brueghel, as well as to the landscapes of Claude Lorrain.

Justine and Claire are two antipodes, symbolizing apathy and anxiety. They also have in common – strange parents, who, in fact, are not. Against this background, they are both equally unhappy.

It seems interesting how their roles change along the canvas. If at the very beginning Claire tries on the role of mother, then at the end of the picture Justine takes care of her sister, urging her not to be afraid. Perhaps this is partly the essence of Trier’s film. That is, that family ties are not only blood, but also friendship, as well as the ability, if necessary, to take on parental responsibilities.

There is also a hidden meaning in the tape. In the nineties, von Trier positioned himself as an anti-bourgeois artist. However, criticism of capitalism did not cease to be his favorite strong point in later works. He did not bypass this topic here either.

“A fortune” spent on a wedding cannot guarantee personal and family happiness. A luxurious castle is not able to save from debilitating anxiety. As Melancholia approaches, the world of prosperity and wealth collapses around Claire like a house of cards, and she herself, hypocritically dreaming earlier of a beautiful death with a glass of wine in her hand, quietly whines in a corner of fear.

Alexander SkarsgårdAlexander Skarsgård as Michael. Frame from the film.

Trier considers advertising to be one of the conductors of the ideas of capitalism and endless consumption, which also claims to be called art. Justine’s boss, who embodies all the most vulgar things that exist in the advertising business, he does not spare – this is a satirical, deliberately caricatured image. However, he does not spare humanity as a whole. Through the mouth of Justine, he says: “The earth is evil. You don’t have to grieve for her.”

Especially gets from the director to men. In general, male characters in Trier are almost always shown as extremely unpleasant people. Almost all of them are either traitors or craven cowards. Claire’s husband did not just commit suicide – he, in fact, cowardly abandoned the family, leaving his wife and son alone with the impending disaster. Taking into account the fact that he previously stood on the position of rationalism, his death by his own hand can be considered, among other things, as a capitulation of materialistic ideas.

“Melancholia” does not claim to be scientifically authentic and is not a disaster movie. However, it should not be considered a philosophical treatise on the subject of the apocalypse either. Most of all, this film is close to German expressionism, in which the surrounding space only contributes to the expression of the internal state of people.

sick JacquelineFrame from the film.

Similar films

Here are a few films similar in meaning to Trier’s “Melancholia”:

  • “Tree of Life” (USA, 2010). In the center of the plot is Jack, who has a lot to understand about the world around him, as well as about himself.
  • “Another Earth” (USA, 2011). One night, scientists discover a new planet in the solar system. It is like two drops of water similar to the Earth.
  • “Fountain” (USA, Canada, 2006). Trying to save his terminally ill wife, the protagonist of the film is looking for the Tree of Life.
  • “Last Love on Earth” (UK, Sweden, Denmark, Ireland, 2010). After a global disaster, the survivors gradually lose all feelings. Against the background of the impending apocalypse, Michael and Susan meet – and they understand that they can no longer be without each other.
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