Watching Melancholia

Lars Von Trier’s latest film, Melancholia, is a dreamy, heartbreaking movie that isn’t really about what it is about. Melancholia has been described as a story of the discovery of a planet hiding behind the sun on a potential collision path with Earth. (Yes, this is indeed a key plot line of the film.) But I believe that at its heart, Melancholia is very much a tale of two deeply entwined sisters and their myriad responses to fear, anxiety, and stress.

You never find out why Claire speaks with an English accent and Justine doesn’t; nor do you learn exactly what it is that Claire’s husband does for a living, though it allows them to live in what appears to be a castle; and you never really fully understand why Justine’s husband leaves her right after their wedding. Did he discover that she’d slept with her colleague? Had he just had enough of her depression? It isn’t clear. What is clear is the remarkable range of human emotions both women experience and the unexpected ways in which they tolerate situations that are out of their control and which they finally must face.

“Watching Melancholia” introduces more color than in my previous efforts and also features a bit of wrestling outside of the confines of the Moleskine. I am beginning to wonder what it would be like to try my hand at an action film (Iron Man 2?) or a happy movie (It’s a Wonderful Life?), but for now I expect my next effort will be the Sam Levinson film Another Happy Day, which, frankly, is anything but.

Special thanks to videographer Brent Taylor and to Jacquie Parker for turning the pages so eloquently.

Previously, Debbie Millman drew We Need to Talk About Kevin, The Descendants, and Beginners. For more of her illustrations, check out Look Both Ways: Illustrated Essays on the Intersection of Life and Design.

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