Few directors are as divisive as Danish director Lars von Trier. After the horror show of Antichrist, the director returns with a companion piece to it called Melancholia. Where Antichrist was disturbing, harsh and shocking, Melancholia is the flip side. Slow and plodding, Lars von Trier works out his personal demons though the film. A two hour pseudo therapy session where the director explores clinical depression and how it almost drove him from film.

Melancholia opens with a gorgeously surreal sequence of slow-motion ultra-high res symbolic images that basically give away the last 30 minutes of the film. The movie is divided into two act, Justine’s (Kirsten Dunst) and Claire’s (Charlotte Gainsbourg). The two women are sisters with Claire being the more stable of two. Justine has suffered from clinical depression all her life and her sister has always been there to take care of her.

Justine and her new husband, Michael (Alexander Skarsgård), arrive at their wedding reception, thrown by Claire and John (Kiefer Sutherland) on their palatial estate, two hours late. All seems to be going well but as the night progresses; Justin becomes more erratic and distant. What should be her happiest day is slowing dragging her down into her depths of depression until by the next morning, she can barely move. The night is spent with her avoiding people, taking a bath, putting Claire’s son to bed and being an all around douche bag. Michael confronts his wife as he is leaving the party. Despite knowing of Justine’s condition and helping her, the two have a cryptic conversation and he just leaves.

The film then jumps to Claire’s story. Some time has passed since the wedding. Justine returns to Claire and John estate to heal just a few days before the planet Melancholia passes by the Earth. She arrives by cab and can barely move. Over the next several days, she slowly improves; however, Claire has become more and more paranoid about the approaching planet destroying the Earth. The approaching apocalypse emboldens Justine as she accepts her fait but Claire becomes paranoid and depressed. Eventually the planet arrives and everyone dies in a very silly visual.

Melancholia is a broadly written story where virtually nothing happens for its two hour runtime. The characters are poorly written and bounce between being absurd caricatures and just plain assholes. Justine’s wedding is filled with people that appear to have wronged von Trier at some point. Stellan Skarsgård plays Justine’s boss who promotes her to Art Director in his wedding speech then demands a tagline for a new line they are launching. At first it’s played as a joke expect that he’s hired a young man to follow Justine around at her wedding until she comes up with the tag line. Charlotte Rampling as Justine’s mom has no purpose other than to publically say, “fuck marriage and fuck you.” Poor Kiefer Sutherland bounces from being a pompous ass in the first half of the film to almost non-existent in the second half. John Hurt shows up and calls everyone Betty for some reason.

Thankfully, there are two strong actresses in the leads. Kirsten Dunst easily gives the best performance of her career. She handles the lows and highs of her depression without devolving into hysterics or clichés. It feels genuine. After going full on crazy in Antichrist, Charlotte Gainsbourg returns for a more sedate, but emotionally wrenching role. Both actresses aren’t given much to work with but pullout very impressive performances.

Melancholia suffers most from the preachy, heavy handedness of the script. Von Trier has created the film as cheap therapy. It trips along from moment-to-moment without a sense of direction or immediacy. When the characters do take a moment to say something, it’s coming directly from the mouth of the director. When Justine tells Claire that we’re utterly alone in the universe, a speck of life that will soon be snuffed out, we won’t be missed and the Earth is evil, you almost expect the director to be working Dunst like a Muppet.

Lars von Trier is a very controversial director that always provides something interesting to watch. I’ve been a huge fan of his for years. When he succeeds, he creates a thought-provoking experience that leaves you shaken. When he misses, he misses by miles. Melancholia is a miss. There are strong performances by the leads but with a wasted cast, banal events and ham-fisted dialog, it never moves beyond its base preachiness and ends with a thud instead of a glorious bang.

5/10