Justine (Kirsten Dunst) isn’t enjoying her wedding day, much to the chagrin of her flustered, but supportive groom Michael (Alexander Skarsgard). The clinically-depressed bride’s spirits aren’t even lifted by the fact that her sister, Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg), and brother-in-law, John (Kiefer Sutherland), have thrown her a glamorous reception at their mountaintop mansion with a view.
And when Justine takes a break from the festivities to lie on her back and peer into the night sky, it doesn’t register that the unusually bright star overhead might be a rogue planet on a rendezvous with Earth. She just rejoins the party, only to be so overwhelmed with unhappiness that she soon decides to break off the marriage.
That gloomy scenario sets up the unsettling second act of Melancholia, a morose meditation on mortality directed by Lars von Trier. The Danish director follows that opening segment “Justine,” with a closing tableau called “Claire.”
As part two begins, we find Justine single again and living with her sister’s family. She takes little comfort in astronomer John’s assurances that the approaching, oversized asteroid Melancholia will miss but not make impact, since the leading scientists agree that it’s on a collision course with Earth.
Soon, however, the script is flipped with Claire becoming depressed due to an inability to handle the idea of annihilation, especially because she has the responsibility of allaying her young son’s (Cameron Spurr) anxiety. Then, when her hubby inexplicably disappears, that all but confirms her worst fears, and it falls to Justine to summon up the courage to comfort the boy while facing their fate with grace and stoicism.
It’s impossible to guess what the end of the world might look like or how you might behave, but this alternately surreal, seductive and sobering descent into dystopia is as entertaining and good a guess as anybody’s.