You know you've got serious problems when you're in so tight with the ultra-cool Charlotte Gainsbourg that she makes you a meatloaf for dinner, but then all you can muster by way of thanks on that first forkful is a pained, "It tastes like ashes!"
That's Kirsten Dunst's condition in this, the latest from Lars von Trier. She's a newlywed with a case of clinical depression so acute, all-enveloping and bizarrely omniscient that she destroys her own insanely lavish wedding reception and new marriage with a variety of antics, including having sex with a co-worker on a golf course while everybody else parties inside. If that weren't bad enough, her interior life parallels a planet that just happens to be called Melancholia, a big, blue, bad marble headed straight toward Earth.
Dunst's sister, Gainsbourg, is gripped by fear of a collision between the two planets even as her husband, Kiefer Sutherland, calmly assures her otherwise. But if either of them were paying attention to the fact that they're already helpless passengers on a beautiful, grand-scale Lars von Trier doom-train, they'd look to their nearly catatonic sister as the unintentional prophet she is. The end is near and it's not just a metaphor. You're going to die. Sorry.
Or not. For fans of von Trier's pitch-black, let's-destroy-cinema worldview, Christmas just came a little early. The film takes his ongoing obsessions -- the suffering of women, the failure of human social institutions, divine punishment -- and pushes them past what you've come to expect (think Antichrist's graphic genital mutilation and feral, demonic talking animals), into the realm of the operatic. The movie even begins with its own spoilers, a series of still, painterly, puzzle-piece visions of The End, the prettiest apocalypse ever, tipping the audience to the futility of all human action that takes place over the next couple of hours.
And for you von Trier haters, this might wind up being the movie that finally draws you over to the dark side. Its quiet terrible beauty is the polar opposite of his earlier, brasher conniption fits of agony and its female devastation feels less like it was created by a man whose downtime hobbies include crisping ants under magnifying glasses, more like a humane member of the very species he's watching self-destruct. You won't leave this end of the world feeling fine, happily humming the Wagner score, but you won't feel abused either.