This is the way the world ends / This is the way the world ends / This is the way the world ends / Not with a bang but a whimper  - T.S Eliot - The Hollow Men (1925)

The Terrence Malick style montage of slo-mo imagery at the start of Melancholia  tells us from the outset that there will be no happy ending here. Death, not life is the key motif.

But the end of the world scenario is never really convincing. A few flurries of snow, a brief hail storm and the appearance of a 19th hole on an 18-hole golf course are the only real signs that something is amiss.

Earth seems to be going about business as normal despite it being on a collision course with the Planet Melancholia.

This has to be the strangest doomsday movie ever made with a privileged group of characters who exist, then cease to exist, in isolation from the rest of the world.  We see no mass panic and no attempt by the U.S. military to make a last-ditch attempt to save our bacon. One character goes online to check the rogue planet’s progress but no-one else is bothered enough to tune in to the TV or radio.

“Life is only on Earth and it’s not for long”, says Justine (Kirsten Dunst), resignedly and  acts as if on sedatives even before her black dog kicks in big-time.  She’s in such a bad place ,in fact, that she loses her job and husband and alienates her family and friends – all on her wedding day!  Her self-destructive actions illustrate that one of the real issues of depression is that you hurt others as much as you hurt yourself.

Justine’s brother-in-law John (Kiefer Sutherland) is an amateur astronomer and is sure the planet Melancholia will not collide with Earth; he’s even getting excited by the prospect of witnessing a ‘fly by’. Only the day before impact does he concede that there is always a “margin of error” in any  scientific calculation. When he realises the worst he takes an overdose of sleeping pills and goes off to die in the stables – so much for women and children first!

Rather than read Lars Von Triers film as being about the end of days, it actually makes more sense to see it as about the end of hope. Apparently, Von Triers’ starting point was the recognition that his own personal despair was often accompanied by a curious state of calm – perhaps on the basis that, if nothing matters anyway, why fret.

Alternatively, the Danish director’s catastrophic “I am a Nazi” press conference in Cannes could be taken as a sign that he is intent on making an elaborate joke at our expense. Whatever his objectives were, the finished result  doesn’t have the deep impact (pun intended) that it could/should have had because it simply doesn’t work on an emotional level.

Von Triers likes manipulating his actors and audience but he does so in a cold, calculating manner that made me view this as an exercise of style over substance.

Related link: 
Review of Melancholia by Peter Bradshaw (