1) What's the correlation between von Trier's Nazi comments at the Cannes film festival and Melancholia? Did von Trier mean to undermine the festival just as Justine (Kirstin Dunst) makes a mockery of her wedding?
2) When she changes the art book display in the library, Justine changes her mise en scene. She is a kind of prophet who can do nothing with her knowledge of the imminent destruction of the earth except negate everything around her.
3) When her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) pulls Justine aside during the wedding to attempt to stop her from making one of her "scenes," I initially thought that Justine resorts to drama because she's beautiful and spoiled, but that's not it. She's the Cassandra who knows in advance that everything her sister stands for no longer matters.
4) Melancholia, like The Tree of Life, shares a symphonic structure and the kind of cosmic imagery one finds in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). The movie is divided into three parts: the prelude, and two movements, the first dedicated to Justine's disastrous wedding and her point of view, the second dedicated to Claire's perspective afterwards. All three portions invite the viewer to make connections between them.
5) The prelude's slow motion tableaus prepare the viewer for the end, giving the viewer an impersonal God-like perspective on all of the human uncertainty and error to follow (We know, for example, that the earth will smash like a fiery grapefruit into the much larger Melancholia planet).
6) In the opening scene of the prelude, Justine stares at the viewer in close up as stricken birds fall from the sky behind her. The central question of the movie becomes: what does she know? The film's version of the apocalypse parallels our environmental anxieties: snow falling on a warm summer day, hail falling crazily, and other strange weather phenomena. Sparks connect from the sky to the telephone poles and horses and other animals react to the changes that no one else can feel. How much have apocalyptic omens become part of our daily experience?
7) Why does von Trier burn one of Justine's art book displays, Bruegel's winter landscape painting "Hunters in the Snow" in the prelude?
8) Melancholia is a movie of omens. Justine's depression could be in actuality the prophet's knowledge. As in Donnie Darko (2001), what appears to be mental illness could be a higher understanding. So, Justine's character becomes more calm and collected in the latter movement which is otherwise dedicated to Claire's worry and despair. Justine finds that she can give herself over to the arrival of the planet (she even lies in the nude at night to be ravished by it). The planet Melancholia becomes her groom. She seems cheered up slightly by the planet's increasing proximity. One could say that her knowledge somehow makes her superior to her imminent destruction (although one gets the impression that von Trier would never allow any kind of afterlife to his characters; Malick's seeming willingness to do so in The Tree of Life makes the latter film less severe). At the end of Melancholia when the earth is destroyed, one can't help but expect some sort of coda or denouement, but what can happen after that? Credits.
9) At one point, Justine says "The earth is evil. There's no need to grieve for it. No one will miss it." Did von Trier mean for her gnostic words to echo Uncle Charlie's in Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt (1943) : "How do you know what the world is like? Do you know the world is a foul sty? Do you know, if you rip off the fronts of houses, you'd find swine? The world's a hell. What does it matter what happens in it?"
10) The bath theme (Justine takes a bath during her wedding in the first movement, and then initially proves too depressed to bathe in the second) ties in with the suicide of Ophelia theme foreshadowed in the prelude.
11) Claire is all about worry. She conveys a mother's despair, knowing that her young son will be killed. As the planet approaches, she doesn't know where to go, what to do. (spoiler alert) Her last act on earth takes on a ritualistic importance. All that Justine and Claire have left is a last stab at magic for the boy's (Leo's) sake. One could say this is pitifully ineffectual, but one could also see that this attempt to keep Leo from fear is one of the most important acts of the movie.
12) In one evening, Justine negates:
c) her employment
d) her mise en scene
e) her family's money
She denies her wedding's presumption of a comedic ending. Her knowledge is fundamentally tragic, so her wedding dress becomes a kind of shroud.
13) Justine's horse is named Abraham. Did Von Trier mean to make us think of the Old Testament Abraham's absurd trial when God commands him to kill his son Isaac, a story which also figures prominently in Kierkegaard's book Fear and Trembling (1843)?
14) Did von Trier mean for the family's sumptuous midnight front lawn (with its freaky shadows) to echo this scene from Last Year at Marionbad (1961)?
15) What happens to one's experience of time when one knows the world will end soon? According to the prelude, it slows down. The everydayness is gone. How much does Melancholia convey the tragic knowledge one would have if one's mortality was not contingent, if one knew that one will die tomorrow? How much would one's life fill with omens? How much would it take on the same eerily backlit, slow motion grandeur?
16) The whole film boils down to the three principal characters' ability to face the Gorgon--the knowledge of their annihilation. As Kafka wrote, "Can you know anything but illusion? If once illusion were destroyed you would never dare to look back; you would turn into a pillar of salt." In her depression, Justine does become immobilized, but then she finds that she can face it. One wonders, if she, like von Trier, takes some perverse pleasure in the imminent destruction of the earth.