"The human race is just chemical scum on a moderate size planet, orbiting round a very average star in the outer suburb of one among a billion galaxies."
- Stephen Hawking, 1995, in "Reality on the Rocks: Beyond our Ken."
Melancholia, a highly praised film from Lars Von Trier, follows the imploding lives of the characters as the earth awaits imminent destruction from the planet Melancholia. While stunningly beautiful in its cinematography, it is hauntingly hopeless in its depiction of a life without meaning.
Perhaps appropriately, none of the main characters are compelling. Justine is the melancholic whose longing for nothingness ushers in the rogue planet that will destroy earth. She cares for no one but herself: she dumps her groom on the night of their wedding; she is casually cruel to everything around her; she can't stand the rituals of normal life. Since nothing matters, the arrival of the doomsday planet is not something she fears at all. One of Cormac McCarthy's characters in the Sunset Limited could have been her spokesperson:
“The shadow of the axe hangs over every joy. Every road ends in death, every friendship, every love. Torment, lost, betrayal, pain, suffering, age, indignity, hideous lingering illness... and all of it with a single conclusion. For you and everyone and everything you have ever chosen to care for… And there's no going back, there's no setting things right, there's only the hope of nothingness.”
Claire and Justine's parents are morally and socially vacuous. Claire's husband is a man of science and convention who places all his trust in order and predictability, with tragic results. Their friends are shallow; their servants are pawns; her boss is an ogre. In this story, there is no one for whom to cheer.
The director intended to ask a particular kind of question with this film: Is everything hollow? Does anything matter? Money, possessions, science, family, careers, friends, and tradition all fail in the end. Justine muses that "life is a wicked idea," a sentiment the director seems to share. In this kind of reality, the hero (if there is one) is the person who recognizes that Macbeth was right: all is but toys. Since our end is despair and destruction, the less we value, the less we stand to lose.