Sophia Foster-Dimino’s review:
I liked (extremely) the scenes at the start, which reveal the rest of the film in its entirety – sometimes perfect pre-echoes (?) of later sequences, sometimes shot from a slightly different angle, sometimes embellished entirely, sometimes representing psychological states only orally alluded to (Justine's description of slogging through a mess of vines), sometimes only hinting at an inevitable further future (the art monographs in the library slowly catching fire).
These scenes are almost stills, almost a slideshow, but move ever so slightly – you nearly feel sick looking at them, as if the molasseslike movement might be a hallucination. They're a step removed from paintings. The unbearably slow movement seems to offer a very slim hope of escape, of breaking free, but in fact it's this minuscule hope that makes the entrapment all the more desperate. The characters seem both enmired physically in these scenes (more or less literally – Claire struggling to carry her son through a bog of a golf course) and also fatalistically, for once the prologue is finished we basically know the score for the rest of the story. Like Justine, we know that Melancholia will hit at the end, which taints all the festivities and forbids us from feeling a shred of happiness. We're forced to view John's excited optimism with Justine's deadened cynicism.
Not to harp too much on the opening scenes, but von Trier used the same technique in Antichrist (aka the worst movie to watch home alone at two in the morning), to great effect – though in that case he played the characters more against their environment. But the undertones are similar – he seems to link the external world with one's internal emotional landscape, and both are overwhelmingly entropic, constricting, horrifying, absolute.
I really like von Trier and I have a hard time articulating this to people. It seems that you'll be pegged as a misanthrope if you enjoy his films, and he is inarguably a despicable person in many ways, but I think his work is incredibly important. I don't know if I could recommend this movie to anyone, because it is very difficult and draining, much like dealing with a person who has some form of major clinical depression. I don't think that this is a world that everyone needs to necessarily see or understand, but it is nonetheless real, and I'm glad that it's been committed to film.