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Melancholia

"The earth is evil. We don't need
to grieve for it."
Lars von Trier's Melancholia (2011)

Points of Reflection

Lars von Trier's Melancholia (2011)

1.  does every image in the prologue’s opening montage anticipate an important scene or theme in the film?

2. does Justine seem genuinely happy in the film’s opening, or do her smiles and laughter have a false ring?

3. what professional occupation did Justine pursue prior to the film’s events?  Is this bit of information extraneous, or important to understanding Justine’s character?

4. can the reappearance of Justine’s depression during the wedding dinner be blamed on a single event?  Is there a clear trigger?

5. after Justine’s melancholy undeniably arrives, her sister Claire takes her aside and tells her to snap out of it (21-22).  Is this fair?

6. when overwhelmed by melancholy, to what locations does Justine retreat?

7. consider the art history room which functions as a morning room and library. What types of paintings are already on display when Justine enters, and with what alternative prints does she replace them (44-45)?  Is there a common thread connecting these paintings?

8. does Michael seem aware of the depth of Justine’s mental illness?

9. does Michael demonstrate his love for Justine by pursuing her as an ardent lover?  Is he patient and understanding with her?

10. into what scenes does Lars von Trier pull the prelude from Richard Wagner’s opera Tristan and Isolde (1857-59)?  Can you identify a thematic or tonal pattern connecting these scenes?

11. which of Justine’s family members seems most sensitive to her emotional health and well-being?

12. what is the deal which John attempts to strike with Justine (39-40)?

13. is it significant that both Justine and her mother Gaby retreat to the same liquid location (31-33) in their attempts to avoid the wedding party?

14. do any of the men in this film evince emotional and psychological complexity, or are they all one-dimensional caricatures?

15. who proves more caring and sympathetic towards Justine in Part Two, Claire or John?  Which character has the most success in reaching Justine: Justine, John, Leo, or Little Father?

16. when Justine’s horse, Abraham, again refuses to go over the bridge and into the forest, how does she respond (1:22)?

17. how do the horses react to Melancholia’s proximity?

18. how do our primary characters’ differ in their reactions to Melancholia?

19. why is Claire so bothered by John’s toast “to life” (1:41)?

20. Von Trier, who shows no qualms about capturing unclothed bodies in his films, could easily have caught Justine naked while she's bathing (31). Instead, he chooses to wait till her nighttime tryst w/ Melancholia (1:26-27). Why?

21. is John a brave man?

22. does Justine seems more perspicacious than the other characters?

23. why does Claire release Abraham into the forest (1:52-53)?

24. why does Claire try to get into the village by car, then by golf cart (1:55-56)?

25. what prompts Claire to reiterate the statement, “Sometimes I hate you so much, Justine” (2:02)?

26. in what various ways does the Earth respond to Melancholia’s approach?

27. does Justine emerge from her depression before the film’s end?

28. what do you make of von Trier’s decision not to show how the rest of the world is reacting to Melancholia’s presence?

29. do we fault Justine, who has been brutally honest up to this point, for lying to Leo (2:02-2:08)?

30. why might von Trier gives his heroes the maiden name of “Steelbreaker”?



"The Dust of Souls" (1963)
Salvador Dalí


Dr. Paul Marchbanks
pmarchba@calpoly.edu