Life Is Only On Earth. And Not For Long: Melancholia

Life Is Only On Earth. And Not For Long: Melancholia

Static Mass Rating: 5/5
Artificial Eye

Release date: January 23rd, 2012
Certificate (UK): 15
Running time: 135 minutes

Writer and director: Lars von Trier

Cast: Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kiefer Sutherland, Charlotte Rampling, John Hurt, Alexander Skarsgård, Stellan Skarsgård, Udo Kier

On December 10th, 2010, Russian amateur astronomer Leonid Elenin spotted C/2010 X1 (Elenin) for the first time.

In the months that followed, the comet, with an estimated diameter of 200,000 km, made its way to the inner solar system-igniting fears that we might be on a collision course that could eclipse Tunguska in 1908 and even the impact that killed the dinosaurs 65.5 million years ago.


Of course, Elenin passed us safely as it made its way to perihelion (its closest point to the sun), but the thought of it couldn’t be closer to my mind as I watched Lars von Trier’s epic Melancholia.

Opening with Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde prelude and an intro showing the end of the world in breathtaking beauty, Melancholia changes techniques after 10 minutes and brings us back to Earth. The synchronicity we see in this ballet of images is broken once when we begin to look at human lives.

Its story is one that lives up to its name as we meet two sisters, Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg). On what’s supposed to be a night of joyous celebration as Justine marries Michael (Alexander Skarsgård), we learn very quickly that the bride is a troubled woman, prone to bouts of depression.


Despite the lavish party where no expense has been spared by her brother-in-law, John (Kiefer Sutherland), Justine is incapable of happiness. She senses something, she “knows things”.

She knows there are 678 beans in a glass bottle, she knows that life on Earth is evil and she knows that we are the only life out there in the universe, and not for long. Melancholia, a hypnotically blue planet has been hiding behind our Sun up until now but as its orbit brings it closer to Earth’s, we find that Justine might actually be right.


With von Trier’s assembled cast and emotionally charged scenes, Melancholia posits the idea that we are in fact doomed, that these are Earth’s final moments.

Far away from military operations, scenes of epic panic, patriotic speeches and heroics of sideline characters, Melancholia chooses instead to focus on what the end of the world means to just a couple of people who for the most part are incapable of dealing with the world even on a good day.

I found it in no way comparable to Terrence Malick’s Tree Of Life (2011). Both masterworks are from very different minds and the ideas encapsulated within them couldn’t be further apart. To make comparisons is simply not to have understood or taken away much from either film.


  • Audio Commentary with Lars von Trier
  • About Melancholia
  • Melancholia Visual Effects
  • The Universe
  • The Visual Style
  • Interviews

That money brings happiness and a career defines a person’s worth are notions that von Trier also tackles here, and for the bourgeois society, his end of the world vision puts them squarely in Melancholia’s path, seemingly before everyone else. It’s an awe-inspiring moment and makes me believe more strongly than ever that come what may, I too would like to meet my maker out in the open instead of cowering in fear should another of these objects sway just that little bit closer to our noisy little planet.

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