We all know Kirsten Dunst as the former “it girl” in movies like “Bring It On,” the “Spider-Man” trilogy, and my personal favorite “The Virgin Suicides.”
The actress disappeared from the big screen for a while before starring opposite Ryan Gosling in the droll thriller “All Good Things” earlier this year. Although the film wasn’t received well by the critics, we definitely saw potential in the former child actress for a future as an Oscar-winning star.
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Dunst submerges into the acting world again in Lars von Trier’s heavy sci-fi drama “Melancholia.” The film opens with an artistically beautiful summary of events of what is to come for the characters and planet Earth itself.
The film’s focus is Justine (Dunst), a woman suffering from a severe case of anxiety and depression that ultimately affects her wedding day, personal well-being, and the people around her. Her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and brother-in-law John (Kiefer Sutherland) planned and paid for her lavish wedding to husband Michael (‘True Blood’s” Alexander Skarsgard) hoping that the union would make her happy.
Each character butts heads with her in their own ways, and we see glimpses of her relationship with each of them. Claire scolds her for not enjoying the moment. John tells her to consider how much money is being spent on the wedding. Her mother (Charlotte Rampling) delivers a speech during the reception condemning marriage. Her boss (Stellan Skarsgard) pesters her to come up with new ad ideas for work.
However troublesome Justine’s life may be, she’s beautiful, has a successful job in advertising and is marrying someone many women would classify as a “dream catch.” So why is it exactly that she’s so unhappy? Though her family may not understand why Justine isn’t bouncing off the walls with excitement on her wedding day, she has depression, and in many cases it can’t be explained, just like much of the plot in “Melancholia.”
As if the problematic relationships with each family member aren’t enough stress for Justine, the looming presence of the recently discovered planet Melancholia, which is headed for Earth, is enough to cause tension between everyone.
As the film progresses, we start to see Justine crack. Dunst’s character transforms from a happy-go-lucky wife to a haunted person who just wants it all to end. When she moves in with her sister shortly after the wedding day debacle, we see her as a mentally unstable person who can’t find the will to get out of bed and live life. We watch the relationship between the two sisters unfold in one momentous scene where a naked and limp Justine hangs from Claire’s arms as she tries to convince her to get into the bath. In another, Justine has a conversation with Claire and slams the idea of life after death saying, “Life is only on Earth. And not for long.”
As Melancholia comes closer, Claire’s husband John, who has been studying its path, assures everyone the planet will pass right by Earth and it will be nothing more than a magnificent sight. Justine seems to have an opposite outlook as she welcomes the idea of destruction of humanity in her state of depression.
A remarkable star turn is, of course, nothing without a colorful supporting cast of actors. Gainsbourg gives a dazzling performance as Justine’s sister and certainly pushes Dunst’s character choices in the right direction for her depression to come full circle. Sutherland is marvelous playing the fatherly figure who realizes his prediction of the new planet’s path is very wrong. Alexander Skarsgard’s role is small but vital since he presents Justine with a choice, and when we see her choose differently than we expect, it’s then and there that we see her spiral down into a state of destruction.
Lars von Trier’s Nazi comments may have alienated some audiences, but he has an eye for beauty when it comes to both directing and casting.
Catch “Melancholia” and you’ll see why Dunst took home the Best Actress award at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival for the artistically beautiful take on doomsday.