The film is split into two parts, one for Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and the other for Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg). In part one, Justine sabotages her own wedding reception at the beautiful home of Claire and her husband (an excellent, and rather different from Jack Bauer, Kiefer Sutherland) in a self-destructive spiral into depression. The feeling of foreboding as the family bickers and we watch everything gradually unravel is superbly managed. In the second part, we see the sisters’ reactions to the looming disaster, as the planet Melancholia comes ever closer. Justine, whose own melancholia has already overcome her, accepts her fate calmly. Claire is terrified.
The strange thing was that I felt the tension of impending doom much more strongly in the ruined wedding day part than in the destruction of the earth part. By the end I just wanted the planet to hurry up and send everyone on their miserable way. The performances were all remarkable, but the difficulty with watching a film populated by emotionally detached people is that I became emotionally detached myself.
Artistically it is a beautiful film. The slow motion opening sequence is stunning, as Justine and Claire feature in a set of images illustrating their melancholia to come – Claire tries to walk but sinks into the ground; Justine floats down a river in her wedding dress; the planet Melancholia slowly travels towards Earth, all to Wagnerian accompaniment. These scenes were moving. However, two and a bit hours later I, like Justine, was looking forward to the release of eternal blackness. Though in my case it was the credits, rather than death, that I was yearning for – it wasn’t that bad.