A series of transcendent images foretelling things to come, evoking such cinema masterpieces as L’Année Dernière à Marienbad and Un Chien Andalou, montaged with visual quotes from “Hamlet” and Bruegel’s “Hunters in the Snow.” Over this is the bassiest soundtrack ever heard, with Wagner’s “Tristan and Isolde” throbbing and rumbling in intoxicatingly ecstatic waves that surround and overwhelm. The sequence is suggestive of what will be lost if the approaching planet should collide with Earth. But it could equally be memories and ideas from the imagination of ad-agency art director Kirsten Dunst, who is losing her Mad Men mind to depression. So begins Melancholia, director Lars von Trier’s questioning of the point of existence given the trivial ways most of us choose to live our lives.
Detail and contrast are excellent, but following the prologue’s beautifully lit, in-depth compositions filled with gorgeously saturated colors, the film goes Dogma — shaky-twitchy cam and no attempt at lighting. Images become flat and figures undimensional, and though blacks remain deep the rest is yellowy overbrightness.
Meanwhile, the surround channels are kept empty, waiting for the ever-recycling Wagnerian theme which emerges, full and massive to immerse you in swoon-inducing music whenever an hallucinatory vision appears from out of the random, banal lives of people facing the end of their world.
Video: 2.35:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Extras: featurettes: “About Melancholia,” “The Universe,” “The Visual Style,” “Visual Effects,” “HDNet: A Look at Melancholia.” Studio: Magnolia.