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Melancholia

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If you want to watch a painting full of sad people and pretty images, controversial director Lars von Trier (“Antichrist”) has your film.

Playing Thursday through Sunday at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, “Melancholia” opens with a collection of frightfully slow-moving, albeit captivating images that highlight some of the film’s key events before the first scene, including birds, interesting uses of light and a sci-fi, lightning-from-fingertips shot of Justine (Kristen Dunst, “Spider-Man 3”), the muse of von Trier’s cinematic foray into depression and catastrophic events.

With increasing awkwardness, the first half dissects the institution of marriage as an unnecessary and outdated societal expectation and the traditional rigmarole surrounding it. When first introduced to audiences, Justine is happy and upbeat. Sadly, that’s the happiest you see anyone the entire film.

Upon arrival at her special night, Justine indulges in most odd behavior and grows increasingly uninterested in not only her wedding, but also her doting, somewhat goofy husband-to-be (Alexander Skarsgård, TV’s “True Blood”). Skarsgård nails the role of infatuated lover, expertly dropping his Swedish accent for a transatlantic-meets- Southern drawl.

During an entirely useless “congratulatory” toast to the new couple, a severed familial bond surfaces when Justine’s parents publicly battle — the seed of her sadness. As the grueling reception continues, the comfort level of the audience is clearly not a concern for the filmmaker.

At one point, Justine admits to her mother (Charlotte Rampling, “The Mill and the Cross”) that she’s frightened and begs for words of consolation. Her mother cooly replies, “We all are, sweetie. Just forget about it. Get the hell out of here.”

Accompanied by the hard-hitting sounds of Richard Wagner, the story gives way to stunning looks at life-altering situations. The varying themes behave much like a couple unwilling to compromise.

The second half switches perspective to Justine’s sister, Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg, “Antichrist”). Married to the quirky, scientific-minded John (Kiefer Sutherland, TV’s “24”), she plays the role of reluctant conformist and struggles with her own bouts of sadness, stemming from the possibility of a world-ending event.

Von Trier mines the depths of depression in light of an impending doom and the coping mechanisms exhibited by each character: Justine with her detached and sometimes paralyzing clarity (as she claims to “know things”), Claire with her pursuit of optimism, and John with science and denial.

Ultimately, you’ll be be left wondering why sadness looks so beautiful, and if what Justine says is true: “Life on earth is evil.”

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