Melancholia (R) (135 min.) — Lars von Trier's latest endurance test for audiences is as downbeat as its title, a movie in which the world as we know it ends and that feels fine. It is certainly preferable to spending any more time with two clinically depressed sisters whose misery is all von Trier is interested is presenting. For them and us, the end can't come soon enough.
Melancholia is the name assigned to a planet on a collision course with Earth, allowing von Trier to employ CGI tricks his Dogme 95 experiment defied. The planet looms over the plot's pervasive misery, a big blue metaphor for the weight on everyone's shoulders. This movie could be paired with Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life in a double feature of gorgeous tedium and vague, aimless ideas.
Justine (Kirsten Dunst) is the unhappiest bride ever when the movie begins, tolerating a lavish reception footed by her brother-in-law John (Kiefer Sutherland) and sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg). Groom Michael (Alexander Skarsgard) is a dunce who'll be dumped before the evening ends, while Justine indulges in a spontaneous adultery in a golf course sand trap, ruins her career and severs whatever ties remain with her equally miserable mother (Charlotte Rampling).
The second half shifts attention to Claire, who isn't as excited as John about the approaching planet. Her fears of the world ending are coupled with the pressures of caring for Justine, whose personality has become even more unstable. These are irreparably damaged people who are impossible to remain interested in, although von Trier apparently disagrees.
"Provocateur" is a title often ascribed to von Trier, if not for his movies then for outlandish statements like the Melancholia press conference in Cannes where he compared himself to Nazis in terms of being misunderstood. "Needler" seems a more appropriate description for his irritating, indulgent style. By the time Melancholia finally crawls to its conclusion, his round orb in the sky isn't as depressing as the rectangular screen. D (Tampa Theatre)
Steve Persall, Times movie critic