Director: Lars Von Trier
Writers: Lars Von Trier
Principal cast: Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kiefer Sutherland, Alexander Skarsgard and John Hurt
Release date: 30th September 2011 (trailer below).
As a heavenly body enters the Earth’s trajectory, advertising executive Justine (Dunst) gradually slips into a deepening sense of melancholy during her wedding night.
Supported by her older and logical sister Claire (Gainsbourg), the newly wedded bride continues her descent into a sense of resignation as the planet enters a Dance of
Death with its new partner around the sun.
As rumours of a doomsday scenario persist, the calm exterior of the older sister is increasingly underlined by a sense of fear that is held in check by the reassurances of her astronomer husband John (Sutherland), that the Earth is not on a collision course with its new neighbour.
Then again, his calculations may be wrong.
Opening with an oppressive air of doom and incorporating the operatic strings of Wagner against a series of slow motion and surreal images of the characters caught in moments of melancholic thought, this apocalyptic and insular epic seems bent on examining not only the strained relationship between the two siblings at the core of the film but how people react in general to an impending crisis.
The script also bears some resemblance to the theme of the classic H.G. Wells story In the days of the Comet (1906) where the passing of a heavenly body close to the Earth’s orbit transforms the attitude and perspectives of the planet’s inhabitants.
Split into two parts, the opening act revolves around the wedding ceremony of Justine and her soon to be cuckold groom Michael (Skarsgard) and provides some much needed background on the core characters that will latter play out the second act.
The segment as a whole seems reminiscent of the darkly macabre comedy of Dogville (2003) with the director once again examining the inherent nature in people to take advantage and cause injury to others within an established order.
In this instance the family squabbling that breaks out amidst toasts and dinner speeches seemingly mirrors the disruptive events taking place in the heavens that may or may not be the cause of the increasingly erratic behaviour of Justine.
The soap opera theatricals of the first act may use some trimming down and occasionally distract from the doomsday scenario which Sutherland’s scientist reassures us is only a remote possibility.
Now slimmed down to it’s core protaganists, the second act is a much better and absorbing proposition and is served well by the rather grand setting of the country retreat owned by the wealthy astronomer which allows for an increased sense of isolation and fear as doomsday nears and the mandatory breakdown in communication with the outside world adds to the sense of paranoia.
Dunst’s increasingly spaced out and sometimes erratic younger sibling (naked moon bathing!) is examined against Gainsbourg’s sensible older sister and Sutherland’s rational husband, their reaction to the possibility that the scientist may have miscalculated his findings in relation to the fate of the Earth allows for some compelling drama and examination of character in the face of disaster.
Thematically and visually the film is in tune with the recent Terrence Malick meditation, The Tree of Life (2011), as both directors incorporate grand visuals of the universe as a counter balance to the personal and troubled mediations undertaken by their lead characters.
Scenes of the cosmos are lushly rendered and would not be out of place in the Stanley Kubrick classic 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), envisioned with a sense of awe and vastness they also hint at the destructive nature of space and the inability of mankind to avoid the aforementioned pending apocalypse.
Thank heavens that this is one doomsday scenario that is only a work of fiction.
A sometimes indulgent and soap opera based opening act is offset by a paranoid and absorbing second part that ultimately produces some marvellous performances from Dunst, Gainsbourg and Sutherland.