The movie takes place not in the real landscape of a country mansion so much as in the mental landscapes occupied by its two main characters.
The first part, ‘Justine,’ portrays Justine — the insane sister — in the rigid, scheduled environs of her sister’s life. Her marriage, out of which she flunks. We have a tendency to think of women like Justine, put off by social pleasantries and large gatherings of society, as damaged. Claire definitely thinks so; like her husband asks, is everybody in her family stark raving mad? Though ostensibly told from Justine’s point of view, the whole hour only aims to cement in us Claire’s worldview. It ends with Justine having broken off her marriage and quitting her job — in Claire’s terms, she has flunked.
The second part, ‘Claire,’ portrays Claire in the uncaring, bleak landscape of Justine’s life — complete with lying well-wishers and soothsaying obnoxious people. The climax of the movie is something we’ve known all along — Claire leaves Justine’s hand, flunks.
One way to take this is as a triumph for the Justine side, for it is a fight make no mistake; after all, human connection (holding hands and dying with dignity) is more important than fitting in with society. I wonder, however. Is it really that much less connected to have an understanding that the world is filled with humans and they need to be taken on their own terms? Claire’s reaction to Justine’s various eccentricities: she’s my sister. Justine’s reaction to Claire wanting some semblance of normalcy for her death: your plan is a piece of shit. The only real point made here is that while for one life makes her draw away into herself, for the other it is death (well, not only life and death: I could ascribe any number of dichotomies to the two situations, but I have particular affection for this one because I like to think of the Melancholia the doomsday planet as an agent of Justine’s psyche). It was probably taken as a matter of course that the first part could “cement in” Claire’s perception, but the second half “supported” Justine’s, because only the majority’s opinion is wrong.
But, the more you look, the more you find that both parts are “cementing in” their own sets of prejudices. And the bridge doesn’t come in the end as resolution but in the very beginning as introduction: its point is merely to call out the existence of the problem, and to point out that it is an insurmountable one. Life — as Justine so helpfully points out — is evil, but then so is death; and when you best hold the kid’s hand is nothing but a property, neither quality nor vice except when made one by the situation.
There is a certain feeble misanthropy to this movie which raises it above and beyond any normal work preaching such things. It cares not that you feel any particular feeling but only that you acknowledge. If you are crying when the planet hits, the movie has missed its mark: what you need to do is watch.