I have to admit, this is one of the nicest, most orderly End of the World movies I’ve ever seen. No zombies, no cannibals, no Mad Max type degenerates terrorizing a handful of survivors. If the world has to end, this isn’t a bad way to do it: a humungous rogue planet comes into contact with our own, with explosive results. Ka-poosh! And it’s all over.
But it happens in slow motion, over the course of days. Just enough time to tell the story of a newly married couple, Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Michael (Alexander Skarsgard) Justine is a sufferer of depression, or what the Greeks called melancholy. Her wedding night is a roller coaster of emotions seen in her face: utter happiness, followed by disgust, disinterest, and an unshakable bone weariness.
Her new husband notices all this and tries to help. In a private room he gives her a picture of an apple orchard he just purchased, a place they can rock sedately and enjoy their golden years. Justine says to him, “I’ll keep it with me always.” When she gets up to rejoin the party, she leaves the crumpled photo behind.
Throughout the night-long wedding reception, no mention is made of the celestial bad boy coming our way, called Melancholia. The bride’s brother in law, John (Kiefer Sutherland) insists that top scientists have certified that the larger planet will simply fly by, giving those on Earth a fine show.
But top scientists have been known to be wrong. Differing viewpoints predict a Dance of Death involving the two planets; think of a tetherball wrapping itself around a pole.
The marriage ends before the night is over, guests leave, and left behind on John’s large estate are Justine, her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg), her nephew Leo (Cameron Spurr), and John. Melancholia is now close and bright enough to be seen in the daytime. Is the planet leaving for good? Or coming back? A homemade wire and wood device made to track the planet’s movements seems to suggest both.
Birds stop chirping, horses plunge and whinny, and the Earth’s atmosphere thins and makes it hard to breathe. Lights and power go out and even batteries stop working. As disaster approaches, Justine seems to be handling it fine, while Claire and John begin to lose their wits and composure. Their actions and reactions are interesting to watch, and make us think how we ourselves might handle this situation.
A long montage in the early part of the movie shows us just what is going to happen, so it won’t be a spoiler to tell you how it ends. It really does end. But seeing how this group of people spend their last days on Earth is a fascinating study of our universe, our planet and the characters that populate it.