Depression is, as a rule, not something that Hollywood does a terribly accurate job of portraying. We’ve all seen those short-term, almost manic bursts of weeping as the afflicted character huddles beneath a mountain of blankets. Sometimes, self-inflicted pain and suicide even enter the picture.
But depression is more than simply an overpowering sadness, and violent options are one of the drastic extremes of a very complex condition. Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia comes at the issue from a very different angle.
Von Trier spent time in counseling for his own depression, and he learned from his therapist that depressed individuals tend to stay calmer in the face of calamity.
This idea was the seed for Melancholia which focuses on two sisters confronted with the impending end of the world.
More of a character study than a disaster film, its goal is to get the audience to know these two women and then understand how and why they react as they do to the events around them.
Kirsten Dunst plays Justine, a woman whose depression sometimes is so severe as to leave her in an almost catatonic state. Her sister, Claire, portrayed by Charlotte Gainsbourg, is ordinarily more emotionally stable, but the two react in surprising ways as catastrophe looms closer.
While Claire crumbles and panics, Justine’s depression keeps her calm, though in a continual state of pessimism.
What Von Trier achieves in Melancholia is so much more than an artistically beautiful film masterfully strung together with a captivating orchestral score and world-shattering imagery.
He also comes closer than just about any other filmmaker to accurately showing the public what it means to have depression, all without judgment or condescension.
Though it’s not likely to leave the audience smiling, Melancholia is mandatory viewing for anyone who has never been through depression.
In a country where one in 10 people will experience depression at some point in their lives, the vast majority never reporting the symptoms, few films offer a more timely exploration of this important issue.