And so the runaway planet Melancholia crashes into Earth, utterly destroying it and everybody on it. The end. But go back a little in time and there was a wedding being held, for nobody knew the disastrous effects the heavenly body would have had on our world and life was continuing as normal, or as normal as the bride Justine (Kirsten Dunst) was used to at least. But on the way to the reception, there was a hint that things might not go to plan as the limousine got stuck in a tricky bend of the country road, making Justine and her new husband Michael (Alexander Skarsgård) very late...
This might have been judged an artistic success at the time it was released, but for director Lars von Trier it was a public relations catastrophe as he tried and failed to make his views on the Nazis clear for some reason, and ended up digging himself a very deep hole, leading to him swearing off talking to the press from then on. Yet even that did not quite overshadow his movie as a lot of people really liked it, with star Dunst winning the Best Actress prize at the Cannes Festival where von Trier had made his faux pas, and there were those of the opinion that it was the director's strongest work in some time. That said, not everyone was convinced.
According to Lars, this was the depiction of his own depression in film form, a way of working it through his mind by way of his art, and Dunst did an excellent job of illustrating the crushing weight of the condition and how it blew up out of all proportion whatever bad times you were suffering, though in this case the planet of the title was intended to represent that sense of nihilism it could bring on. The whole world might as well be destroyed for the way Justine feels, was the theme, and as we have seen a selection of near-abstract images during the first ten minutes which dramatised in slow motion the effects of that event we are well prepared for what will eventually occur.
With the wedding aftermath taking up the first half of the story, we can well see why Justine would be labouring under the gloom she endures, as her family are little help, with father John Hurt ineffectual and mother Charlotte Rampling waspish in the way only she can be, announcing to all and sundry as the speeches are made that she hates marriage, the best she can wish her daughter being "Enjoy it while it lasts". Michael is loving enough, but does not seem to view his new spouse as anything but a precious trophy he cannot believe his good luck to have won, and his adoration does not come across to Justine as something she is worthy of. Only sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) manages to get through to her, as the depression snakes around her mind and squeezes all optimism from the woman.
Justine has a job in advertising she despises, and given Michael's father (Stellan Skarsgård) is her boss and is pressuring her for a new campaign which she hates him for, she's not in the best of outlooks for carrying on with her career, never mind the marriage. In this way the arrival of the rogue planet is both her deliverance and a massive cop out, sort of a convenience which allows her to die without the messy business of committing suicide, and there's an indication von Trier had not thought this through, drawing his story up to that annihilation we watched at the beginning as if that was the perfect full stop on the trauma his heroine is going through, an impenetrable darkness in her personality that tore down the entire Earth.
As a director he was no stranger to making his lead female characters go through hell, which he excused by claiming they represented himself, though thankfully there was little of the punishment for the sake of it those earlier films had exacted here for as a statement of how the condition warped the patient's outlook it was a genuine one. It's just that it made everything seem futile; yes, there was intermittent beauty here, but the overwhelming tone was "So what? Nothing matters anyway". The sight of a massive, planet-sized object growing ever closer in the skies above the characters was undeniably dramatic, and ignoring von Trier's tenuous grasp of physics seeing as how this was symbolism we were dealing with (a fact which escaped some) it served as an ideal metaphor for the doom Justine felt was threatening her sanity, but that did not indicate that depressives wish to take humanity with them when they go. As powerful as that symbol was, it was just too thuddingly unsubtle with its comparisons, only palatable when the director's black sense of humour showed through.
Notoriously eccentric Danish writer, director and producer, a graduate of the Danish Film School, who has capitalised on international acclaim and disdain in equal measure. Thrillers Forbrydelsens Element and Epidemic started the ball rolling, with distinctive war drama Europa really setting von Trier up as a talent to watch.
Breaking the Waves, the first in a series of victim stories, won the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes and his fame spread, especially as he had teamed up with three other directors to create the Dogme '95 rules of filmmaking - controversial The Idiots was von Trier's result. Then Dancer in the Dark, a musical starring Bjork, proving he was anything but predictable, and Dogville, a scabrous attack on American small town life.
He was next involved in The Five Obstructions, a documentary which revealed much about his methods. Then, a thematic follow-up to Dogville, slavery drama Manderlay, which was followed by little seen comedy The Boss of It All and most controversially, his relationship goes to hell horror Antichrist.