The mood of “Melancholia” is set in the opening shot, a close-up of Kirsten Dunst’s gloomy face as she stands on the grounds of a palatial estate.
It doesn’t get much cheerier than that in Lars von Trier’s film about a depressed bride facing the end of the world at her wedding.
“Melancholia” is billed as a “psychological disaster film,” an apt description for a doomsday drama in which everyone is miserable.
It’s not just their imaginations, either. There really is a large planet hurtling toward a possible collision with Earth.
Yet the dark clouds are cloaked in an ethereal shroud.
Take the opening montage, which contains more striking shots than most entire films. There’s a mother clutching a child while running across a golf course, a collapsing horse, Dunst shooting electrical currents from her fingertips and that planet called Melancholia speeding toward Earth.
The setting is the lavish wedding of Justine (Dunst) and Michael (Alexander Skarsgard) at the home of her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and brother-in-law John (Kiefer Sutherland). The newlyweds arrive late for their own reception, where her eccentric dad stuffs spoons in his jacket pocket and her bitter mom rails against marriage.
Justine, who works at an ad agency, has her own issues. She’s so glum that she doesn’t want to canoodle with her new husband or even come out of her room to cut the wedding cake. Her sister tries to snap her out of her funk, but soon everyone is fretting over that massive globe getting closer and closer.
In the last scene, the sisters and Claire’s little boy sit on a hilltop as Melancholia grows larger in the background. The end is truly near.
‘Into the Abyss’
Eight days before he was executed for killing a nurse during a Texas carjacking, 28-year-old Michael Perry calmly spoke to filmmaker Werner Herzog about his tortured path to death row.
Wearing a white prison outfit, Perry recalled his days as a homeless, hungry teenager befriended by Jason Burkett, who is serving a life sentence for murdering the nurse’s son and another young man on the same crime spree.
“I’m finally at peace with myself,” declared the baby- faced Perry, who proclaimed his innocence after recanting a confession filled with details about the crime.
“Into the Abyss,” Herzog’s solemn meditation on the causes and effects of violent crime, also includes rambling conversations with Burkett, his jailed father, Burkett’s pregnant wife (whom he was allowed to marry in prison) and the murdered woman’s daughter.
Herzog gives equal time to the perpetrators and victims of the triple murder, though it doesn’t change his upfront opposition to the death penalty.
While the interviews sometimes wander into seemingly irrelevant subjects such as squirrels, alligators and tattoos, the most fascinating figures are people like Fred Allen, former head of the Texas execution team who later became a death- penalty foe.
His turning point was the 1998 execution of Karla Faye Tucker, the first woman to be put to death in Texas since the Civil War. Allen began shaking and sweating not long after Tucker, who helped butcher two people with a pickax in a drug- fueled frenzy, was strapped to a gurney and injected with a lethal mix of chemicals.
“I can’t do this anymore,” Allen told the prison chaplain.
“Into the Abyss,” from Sundance Selects, is playing in New York and Los Angeles. Rating: ***
What the Stars Mean: **** Excellent *** Good ** Average * Poor (No stars) Worthless
(Rick Warner is the movie critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)
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