Melancholia: a film about the end of the planet that isn’t about the end of the planet

One of my favorite aspects about Melancholia was the fact that, while the end of the world (or, I should say, the end of the planet Earth) was a vital component to the plot, this film wasn’t centered around the end of the world.  Rather, it was centered on the relationship of an estranged family, specifically Justine and Claire.  It was a story about two sisters trying to cope with their lives, their families, their responsibilities, and their mental illnesses.  Had Melancholia not destroyed the Earth, one could argue that the world still would have ended for both Justine and Claire.  Justine has a duty to her newly minted husband, but her depression ultimately leads to the abrupt end of her marriage—her world ends long before Melancholia ever comes into the picture. Claire has a duty to her husband and child, as well as her sister, but her anxiety about the impending doom of the planet destroys her family.  Ironically, just before the world literally ends, Justine and Claire’s respective worlds are repaired and saved by their duty to each other and Claire’s son, whom they both love and care deeply for.  The final image we see is of the Justin, Claire, and Leo (Claire’s son) building a “magical cave” of sticks and holding hands as Melancholia collides with the planet.  And yet, even though the film begins with images of the planet Melancholia, even though the film ends with Melancholia destroying planet Earth, even though the film itself is titled Melancholia, the focus is never truly on the fact that the world is ending.  It almost acts as a fascinating subplot, while the real action of the two sisters takes place.  To me, the fact that the film is less about the end of the world and more about the strained relationship of these characters makes the “end of the world” subplot less cliche and more effective.  This film was possibly my favorite all semester.  In your opinion, though, was Melancholia effective with its message?

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