Justine (Kirsten Dunst), a hollow spectator on her own wedding night, searching for sensation, peers through her brother-in-law’s telescope at a hot air balloon. It is white, decorated with messages of good will from the wedding guests. They watch and cheer around her and her husband, a man who loves her but cannot make her happy, despite his desperation to do so.
But through the lens, Justine cannot make out the messages on the balloon. As it drifts away into the night, high above immaculate grounds, all she can see is the fire burning at its base. The fact that the fire sustains the wellwishers’ intentions for a long and happy marriage is irrelevant; to Justine, the fire has a clear purpose and meaning, where the fabric and ink do not. However, even the fire drifts further and further from her with each passing moment.
She turns away from the telescope and dutifully smiles to her husband. The night goes on without respite for her emptiness.
Later, she will welcome and embrace the fire and help others to do the same. The scene will play out with the same inevitability she has felt for so long, possibly years. In that moment, she will find – not happiness, not even contentedness. She will find acceptance.
Read more about ‘Melancholia’ at IMDb and in Roger Ebert’s review.