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Melancholia (2011 film)

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Melancholia (2011 film)

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Lars von Trier
Produced by Meta Louise Foldager
Louise Vesth
Written by Lars von Trier
Starring Kirsten Dunst
Charlotte Gainsbourg
Alexander Skarsgård
Brady Corbet
Cameron Spurr
Charlotte Rampling
Jesper Christensen
John Hurt
Stellan Skarsgård
Udo Kier
Kiefer Sutherland
Cinematography Manuel Alberto Claro
Edited by Molly Malene Stensgaard
Distributed by Nordisk Film (Denmark/Sweden)
Les films du losange (France)
Entertainment One
Magnolia Pictures
Concorde Filmverleih (Germany)
Release dates
  • 18 May 2011 (2011-05-18) (Cannes)
  • 26 May 2011 (2011-05-26)
Running time 136 minutes,[1]
Theatrical runtime: 135:30
Country Denmark
Language English
Budget 52.5 million kr
(approx. U.S. $9.4 million as of Aug. 2010)
Box office US$15,946,321[3]

Melancholia is a 2011 Danish art film written and directed by Lars von Trier, starring Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Alexander Skarsgård, Cameron Spurr, and Kiefer Sutherland. The narrative revolves around two sisters during and shortly after one's wedding, while an approaching rogue planet is about to collide with Earth. The film prominently features music from the prelude to Richard Wagner's opera Tristan und Isolde (1857–59).

Von Trier's initial inspiration for the film came from a depressive episode he suffered and the insight that depressed people remain peaceful in catastrophic events. The film is a Danish production by Zentropa, with international co-producers in Sweden, France, and Germany. Filming took place in Sweden.

The film premiered 18 May 2011 at the 64th Cannes Film Festival. Dunst received the festival's Best Actress Award for her performance.

Melancholia is the second entry in von Trier's unofficially titled "Depression Trilogy", having been preceded by Antichrist and followed by Nymphomaniac.[4]


The film begins with an introductory sequence involving the main characters and images from space and introducing many of the film's visual leitmotifs.[5] The film continues in two parts.

Part One: "Justine"

Newlyweds Justine and Michael arrive two hours late to their own reception at the family estate where Justine's sister, Claire, and her husband, John, reside. Justine happens to notice a particularly bright red star in the twilight sky which John identifies as Antares.

Over the course of the evening, Justine is frustrated by various personal and professional difficulties. Her mother, Gaby, insults her in a toast, and her boss repeatedly harasses her to write better ad copy. Claire becomes frustrated with Justine and chastises her for not reacting to the reception with the joy she had anticipated. Justine drifts away from the party several times. Michael attempts to console Justine with a wedding present – an apple orchard – but Justine seems unmoved. When she and Michael retreat to their room for the evening, she brushes off his advances and goes walking on the grounds where she has sex with a coworker. At the end of the party, Michael abandons her. At dawn the next day, Justine reluctantly goes horseback riding with her sister Claire when she notices that the bright red star has disappeared.

Part Two: "Claire"

Justine has become severely depressed and stays with Claire and John. Justine is, in fact, almost catatonic and unable even to bathe herself.

John explains that the reason for Antares' disappearance was the rogue planet Melancholia blocking the star from view. Melancholia, a large blue planet that had formerly been hidden behind the sun, becomes visible in the sky as it approaches ever closer to Earth. John is excited about the planet and looks forward to the "fly-by" predicted by scientists.

Melancholia's first approach and final collision with Earth, as described (and shown briefly in a similar diagram) in the film

Claire becomes very fearful that the end of the world is imminent in spite of her husband's reassurances that everyone will be safe. She searches the Internet and finds an article predicting that the movements of Melancholia around the Earth will bring the two planets into a full-on collision soon afterward. Justine claims to possess a kind of special insight or intuition. She tells Claire that life on Earth is evil and that Melancholia is here to bring it all to an end. On the night of the fly-by it seems that Melancholia will merely pass very near without striking the Earth. The next day, however, Claire realizes that Melancholia is circling back and will collide with Earth after all. She searches for John and finds him dead of an apparent suicide.

Faced with the impending collision, Claire becomes distraught and suggests getting together on the terrace with wine and music. In response, a surprisingly calm and upbeat Justine dismisses her idea before going to comfort Claire's son, Leo. She makes him a protective magic teepee on the lawn of the estate. Justine, Claire and Leo enter the rickety wooden shelter as the planet Melancholia looms large. In the final seconds, a shockwave with fire overcomes the characters, destroying the Earth, as shown in the introductory sequence.[6]


Lead actresses Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg during the film's presentation at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival.



The idea for the film originated during a therapy session Lars von Trier attended during treatments for his depression. A therapist had told von Trier that depressive people tend to act more calmly than others under heavy pressure, because they already expect bad things to happen. Von Trier then developed the story not primarily as a disaster film, and without any ambition to portray astrophysics realistically, but as a way to examine the human psyche during a disaster.[7][8]

"In a James Bond movie we expect the hero to survive. It can get exciting nonetheless. And some things may be thrilling precisely because we know what's going to happen, but not how they will happen. In Melancholia it's interesting to see how the characters we follow react as the planet approaches Earth."

Trier on his decision to reveal the ending in the beginning of the film[9]

The idea of a planetary collision was inspired by websites with theories about such events. Von Trier decided from the outset that it would be clear from the beginning that the world would actually end in the film, so audiences would not be distracted by the suspense of not knowing. The concept of the two sisters as main characters developed via an exchange of letters between von Trier and the Spanish actress Penélope Cruz. Cruz wrote that she would like to work with von Trier, and spoke enthusiastically about the play The Maids by Jean Genet. As von Trier subsequently tried to write a role for the actress, the two maids from the play evolved into the sisters Justine and Claire in Melancholia. Much of the personality of the character Justine was based on von Trier himself.[9] The name was inspired by the 1791 novel Justine by Marquis de Sade.[10]

Melancholia was produced by Denmark's Zentropa, with co-production support from its subsidiary in Germany, Sweden's Memfis Film, France's Slot Machine and Liberator Productions.[11] The production received 7.9 million Danish kroner from the Danish Film Institute, 600,000 euro from Eurimages and 3 million Swedish kronor from the Swedish Film Institute.[12][13] Additional funding was provided by Film i Väst, DR, Arte France, CNC, Canal+, BIM Italy, Filmstiftung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Sveriges Television and Nordisk Film & TV-Fond.[11] The total budget was 52.5 million Danish kroner.[14]

Cruz was initially expected to play the lead role, but dropped out when the filming schedule of another project was changed. Von Trier then offered the role to Kirsten Dunst, who accepted it. Dunst had been suggested for the role by the American filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson in a discussion about the film between him and von Trier.[9][10]


Tjolöholm Castle, where exterior scenes were filmed, viewed at sunset.

Principal photography began 22 July and ended 8 September 2010. Interior scenes were shot at Film i Väst's studios in Trollhättan, Sweden. It was the fourth time Trier made a film in Trollhättan.[15] Exteriors included the area surrounding the Tjolöholm Castle.[16] The film was recorded digitally with Arri Alexa and Phantom cameras.[17] Trier employed his usual directing style with no rehearsals; instead the actors improvised and received instructions between the takes.[15] The camera was initially operated by Trier, and then left to cinematographer Manuel Alberto Claro who repeated Trier's movements. Claro said about the method: "[von Trier] wants to experience the situations the first time. He finds an energy in the scenes, presence, and makes up with the photographic aesthetics."[14] Trier explained that the visual style he aimed at in Melancholia was "a clash between what is romantic and grand and stylized and then some form of reality", which he hoped to achieve through the hand-held camerawork.[9] He feared however that it would tilt too much toward the romantic, because of the setting at the upscale wedding, and the castle, which he called "super kitschy".[9][16]


The prelude to Richard Wagner's Tristan und Isolde supplies the main musical theme of the film, and Trier's use of an overture-like opening sequence before the first act is a technique closely associated with Wagner. This choice was inspired by a 30-page section of Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time, where Proust concludes that Wagner's prelude is the greatest work of art of all time. Melancholia uses music more than any film by Trier since The Element of Crime from 1984. In some scenes, the film was edited in the same pace as the music. Trier said: "It's kind of like a music video that way. It's supposed to be vulgar."[7] Trier also pointed out parallels between both the film's usage of Wagner and the film's editing to the music and the aesthetics of Nazi Germany.[7]

Visual effects were provided by companies in Poland, Germany and Sweden under special effects supervisor Peter Hjorth. Poland's Platige Image, which previously had worked with Trier on Antichrist, created most of the effects seen in the film's opening sequence; the earliest instructions were provided by Trier in the summer 2010, after which a team of 19 graphic artists worked on the project for three months.[18]

During Nymphomaniac, a monologue by the title character about loneliness is edited to shots of the universe from Melancholia.


Shortly before the film's premiere, Trier published a "director's statement", where he wrote that he had started to regret having made such a polished film, but that he hoped it would contain some flaws which would make it interesting. The director wrote: "I desired to dive headlong into the abyss of German romanticism.... But is that not just another way of expressing defeat? Defeat to the lowest of cinematic common denominators? Romance is abused in all sorts of endlessly dull ways in mainstream products."[19]

The premiere took place at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, where Melancholia was screened in competition on 18 May.[20] The press conference after the screening gained considerable publicity. The Hollywood Reporter's Scott Roxborough wrote that "Von Trier has never been very P.C. and his Cannes press conferences always play like a dark stand-up routine, but at the Melancholia press conference he took it to another level, tossing a grenade into any sense of public decorum."[21] Trier first joked about working on a hardcore pornographic film that would star Dunst and Gainsbourg.[22] When asked about the relation between the influences of German Romanticism in Melancholia and Trier's own German heritage, the director brought up that he had been raised believing his biological father was a Jew, only to learn as an adult that his actual father was a German gentile. He then made jokes about Jews and Nazis, said he understood Adolf Hitler and admired the work of architect Albert Speer, and jokingly announced that he was a Nazi.[21][23] The Cannes Film Festival issued an official apology for the remarks the same day and clarified that Trier is not a Nazi or an anti-Semite, then declared the director "persona non grata" the following day.[24][25] This meant he was not allowed to go within 100 meters of the Festival Palace, but he did remain in Cannes and continued to give promotional interviews.[26]

The film was released in Denmark on 26 May 2011 through Nordisk Film.[11] Launched on 57 screens, the film entered the box-office chart as number three.[27] A total of 50,000 tickets were eventually sold in Denmark.[28] It was released in the United Kingdom and Ireland on 30 September, in Germany on 6 October and in Italy on 21 October.[29] Magnolia Pictures acquired the distribution rights for North America and it was released on 11 November, with a pre-theatrical release on 13 October as a rental through such Direct TV vendors as Vudu and[29][30] Madman Entertainment bought the rights for Australia and New Zealand.[31]


The film has received mostly positive reviews; it maintains a 77% "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with the consensus: "Melancholia '​s dramatic tricks are more obvious than they should be, but this is otherwise a showcase for Dunst's acting and for Lars von Trier's profound, visceral vision of depression and destruction."

Kim Skotte of [33]

Steven Loeb of Southampton Patch wrote, "This film has brought the best out of von Trier, as well as his star. Dunst is so good in this film, playing a character unlike any other she has ever attempted, that she won the award for Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival this past May. Even if the film itself were not the incredible work of art that it is, Dunst’s performance alone would be incentive enough to recommend it."[34]

Sukhdev Sandhu wrote from Cannes in The Daily Telegraph that the film "at times comes close to being a tragi-comic opera about the end of the world," and that, "the apocalypse, when it comes, is so beautifully rendered that the film cements the quality of fairy tale that its palatial setting suggests." About the actors' performances, Sandhu wrote: "all of them are excellent here, but Dunst is exceptional, so utterly convincing in the lead role – trouble, serene, a fierce savant – that it feels like a career breakthrough. Meanwhile, Gainsbourg, for whom the end of the world must seem positively pastoral after the horrors she went through in Antichrist, locates in Claire a fragility that ensures she's more than a whipping girl for social satire." Sandhu brought up one reservation in the review, in which he gave the film the highest possible rating of five stars: "there is, as always with Von Trier's work, a degree of intellectual determinism that can be off-putting; he illustrates rather than truly explore ideas."[35] Peter Bradshaw, writing for The Guardian, called the film "clunky" and "tiresome", judging it to be "conceived with[out] real passion or imagination", and not "well written or convincingly acted in any way at all", and gave it two stars out of a possible five.[36]


Dunst received the Best Actress Award at the closing ceremony of the Cannes Film Festival.[37] The film won three awards at the European Film Awards for Best Film, Best Cinematographer (Manuel Alberto Claro), and Best Designer (Jette Lehmann).[38]

The US National Society of Film Critics selected Melancholia as the best picture of 2011 and named Kirsten Dunst best actress.[39] The film was also nominated for four Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Awards: Best Film – International; Best Direction – International for von Trier, Best Screenplay – International also for von Trier, and Best Actress – International for Dunst.[40]

Film Comment magazine listed Melancholia third on its Best Films of 2011 list.[41]

See also


  1. ^ (15)"MELANCHOLIA".  
  2. ^ Debruge, Peter (18 May 2011). "Melancholia".  
  3. ^ "Melancholia". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 6 November 2012. 
  4. ^ Knight, Chris (20 March 2014). , reviewed: Lars von Trier’s sexually graphic pairing will titillate, but fails to satisfy"II and Volumes I, Nyphomaniac".  
  5. ^ Dargis, Manohla (30 December 2011). "This Is How the End Begins". New York Times. Retrieved 2 January 2012. 
  6. ^ Video on YouTube
  7. ^ a b c Juul Carlsen, Per (May 2011). Neimann, Susanna, ed. "The Only Redeeming Factor is the World Ending". FILM ( 
  8. ^ "Second Look: Melancholia". 2012-05-14. Retrieved 2012-05-16. 
  9. ^ a b c d e Thorsen, Nils (2011). "Longing for the End of All". English press kit Melancholia. TrustNordisk. Retrieved 18 May 2011. 
  10. ^ a b Feinstein, Howard (20 May 2011). "'"Lars von Trier: 'I will never do a press conference again..  
  11. ^ a b c "Melancholia". Danish Films.  
  12. ^ Fil-Jensen, Lars (22 June 2010). "Støtte til Caroline Mathildes år og Melancholia". (in Danish).  
  13. ^ Roger, Susanne (22 June 2010). "Dramerna dominerar produktionsstöden i juni". Filmnyheterna (in Swedish).  
  14. ^ a b Monggaard, Christian (27 July 2010). "Absurd teater med en film i hovedrollen".  
  15. ^ a b Pham, Annika (28 July 2010). "Von Trier's Melancholia Kicks In". Cineuropa. Retrieved 23 April 2011. 
  16. ^ a b Lumholdt, Jan (19 May 2011). "'I hope I'll say something provocative'".  
  17. ^ "Technical info".  
  18. ^ Staff writer (10 May 2011). "'"Special effects for 'Melancholia. Platige Image Community. Retrieved 8 June 2011. 
  19. ^ Trier, Lars von (13 April 2011). "Director's statement- Melancholia". English press kit. TrustNordisk. Retrieved 8 June 2011. 
  20. ^ "Horaires 2011". (in French).  
  21. ^ a b Roxborough, Scott (18 May 2011). "Lars von Trier Admits to Being a Nazi, Understanding Hitler (Cannes 2011)".  
  22. ^ Trier subsequently announced production of the film Nymphomaniac, which would contain hardcore sequences and would, indeed, co-star Gainsbourg.
  23. ^ Higgins, Charlotte (18 May 2011). "Lars von Trier provokes Cannes with 'I'm a Nazi' comments". The Guardian. Retrieved 18 May 2011. 
  24. ^ Staff writer (18 May 2011). "Cannes Film Festival Condemns Lars von Trier's Nazi Comments".  
  25. ^ Shoard, Catherine (19 May 2011). "Cannes film festival bans Lars von Trier". The Guardian. Retrieved 19 May 2011. 
  26. ^ Roxborough, Scott (21 May 2011). "Lars von Trier Accepts Ban; Says if Hitler 'Made a Great Film,' Cannes Should Select It (Cannes 2011)".  
  27. ^ "Denmark Box Office: May 27–29, 2011".  
  28. ^  
  29. ^ a b  
  30. ^ Lodderhose, Diana (13 February 2011). "'"Magnolia takes 'Melancholia. Variety. Retrieved 13 February 2011. 
  31. ^ Foreman, Liza (17 May 2011). close to selling out"Melancholia". Cineuropa. Retrieved 18 May 2011. 
  32. ^ Skotte, Kim (19 May 2011). "Dom: Trier har skabt et æstetisk originalt overflødighedshorn".  
  33. ^ Iversen, Ebbe (18 May 2011). "Ebbe Iversen: Triers nye film er mægtig og mærkelig".  
  34. ^ Loeb, Steven (15 October 2011). "Review: 'Melancholia' One of 2011's Best Films". Southampton Patch. Retrieved 16 October 2011. 
  35. ^ Sandhu, Sukhdev (18 May 2011). "Cannes 2011: Melancholia, review". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 18 May 2011. 
  36. ^  
  37. ^ Chang, Justin (22 May 2011). Tree of Life' wins Palme d'Or"'". Variety. Retrieved 22 May 2011. 
  38. ^ Vary, Adam B (3 December 2011). Melancholia' wins top prize at European Film Awards"'". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 4 December 2011. 
  39. ^ "US critics reward Lars Von Trier film Melancholia". BBC. 8 January 2012. 
  40. ^ "AACTA Awards winners and nominees".  
  41. ^ "Film Comment's End Of Year Critics' Poll 2011". Film Comment. January–February 2012. 

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