It would take an entire article to list all the visual references Claro crams into this 8-minute sequence, in which the film’s two narrative threads—one concerning the lives of a wealthy, wretched family; the other, the destruction of the entire planet—merge sublimely (and ridiculously). Even so, Melancholia’s allusion to Millais merits special attention. In Millais’s painting—and in the original Shakespearean play—Ophelia is the victim of Hamlet’s cruelty, as well as her own unbalanced psyche. How right for Claro to connect Ophelia and Justine, the doomed heroine of Melancholia, whose inner trembling is somehow both an omen and a cause of apocalypse.
As Justine drifts through the dark green waters, her mouth open in eroticized agony, we’re powerless to avert the disaster—all we can do is drink in the horrifying, slow-motion beauty Claro has captured. It’s as if, in the seconds leading up to destruction, the whole world is transforming into a painting.