Devastating Beauty

November 10, 2011
It’s the end of the world in “Melancholia,” and Justine (Kirsten Dunst) feels fine.

I have long held the opinion that director Lars von Trier loves movies and hates people. His films — the newest of which, “Melancholia,” opens Friday — are almost universally depressing. In the literal sense. As in, you feel like something is pressing down on your chest when you leave the theater.

“Melancholia” is the story of what happens when Earth is destroyed by a giant, encroaching planet. That’s not a spoiler — you know it’s going to happen in the first five minutes of the film. Let me repeat that: This is a movie in which the disaster is not avoided in the last minutes. There is no hero. There is no savior. Everybody and everything dies. You know, just like in real life. Wheee!

But, oh, what a good-looking film. The opening sequence proves that von Trier is a modern master of the medium. There are images — a saddled horse slowly collapsing; a mother (Charlotte Gainsbourg) holding her son, wading knee-high through earth gone soft — that will be indelibly burned into the memory of anyone who sees the film. Yes, the plot is ridiculous at times, the characters are all exactly the same level of insufferable, and no one explains why Kirsten Dunst is the only one in her family with an American accent. But there are single shots in this film that reach the heights of what movies can do — and that, end of the world or no, is exhilarating.

Kristen Page-Kirby covers film for The Washington Post Express.
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Clinton Yates | November 10, 2011