Movie Marketing Madness: Melancholia

What sort of attitude you ponder the end of the world with is largely dependent, in most cases, on your religious or philosophical point of view. Christians believe the world will end when Christ returns for a final judgement, bringing the redeemed to Heaven and ending the struggle here on Earth. Other religions have their own beliefs despite the fact that we all know the world will really end when it’s blown up by the Vogons (an exceedingly stupid race of aliens with incredibly bad poetry) to make way for an interstellar bypass. Really it’s the only logical conclusion. But again how you think the end of the world is going to happen impacts whether or not you anticipate it with longing, dread or indifference.

It’s that kind of indifference that is at the core of the new Lars von Trier-directed film Melancholia. Essentially the story of the relationship between two sisters Justine (Kirstine Dunst) and Claire (Charlotte Ginsburg) the plot then revolves around two major events: Justine’s marriage and the discovery of a mysterious planet that’s been hiding behind the sun and which is now moving towards Earth – but is it on a collision course or will is simply pass by? No one is sure but it’s clear that Melancholia – the name of the planet as well as a descriptor of the feelings felt by some of the characters toward life and others – will change everything.

The Posters

The first poster almost had the look of a wedding invitation. An image of Dunst in a wedding dress clutching a bouquet while lying down in some sort of pond is in the middle of the one-sheet, with Von Trier’s name above that along with the title while the names of the three main cast members are below that photo, which has been repurposed from one of the first publicity photos that was released.

The second poster wasn’t all that much different. This time the photo of Dunst takes up the entire frame, giving more color to the one-sheet right off the bat. At the top is a critic pull quote from a festival screening of the movie along with mentions of its award from Cannes. Toward the bottom are the cast’s names along with the copy “It will change everything” which is meaningful enough if you know the director’s previous work to get you interested but also vague enough to not tip the audience to any clues as to the story. That may or not be a great tactic to take but it’s unlikely there will be much mainstream crossover for a movie like this so it’s fine since the film is being sold primarily to von Trier loyalists.

Up next was a motion poster that featured an image of Dunst and Skarsgard on the verge of a kiss while a star chart materialized on top of that image. The motion poster even featured a bit music, in this case a little Wagner for people to enjoy while the image transitioned from one phase to the next.

The Trailers

The movie’s first trailer lays out the story in broad strokes but, as you would expect from von Trier , there’s a lot more under the surface.

We start with images of Dunst in her wedding dress running through a garden talking about how life exists only on earth. After some family drama at the reception we are introduced to Melancholia, a planet that seems to be heading right toward us. So the impending arrival of that interstellar visitor – it’s not clear whether it will pass by or crash into the planet – is played as a metaphor for the relationships that exist between the characters, none of whom seem to be all that emotionally put together.

The trailer sells a film that is beautiful to look at and somewhat mysterious. It’s obvious that there are a lot of threads we’ll be following and that, as is often the case with von Trier, he doesn’t put a lot of faith in the kindness of people as a whole.


The movie’s official website is interesting if a bit perplexing and offbeat, a description that likely matches the movie and most of von Trier’s work. It’s arranged as one big scrolling page that you can navigate using the menu at the top or just by moving your mouse down the page.

The first section after the “Welcome” screen is a “Director’s Statement” from von Trier where talks about…I’m honestly not sure what. It’s a bit of a screed mixed with thoughts on German romanticism and more. After that it’s more from the director in an “Interview” that allows him to expand his thoughts about the themes of the movie.

Following that is a “Filmography” that isn’t really what it sounds like and is instead just a list of the major actors and talent involved with the movie. Then there’s “Technical Info” which is exactly what it sounds like and is mainly for those wanting to confirm what aspect ratio the movie was shot in.

“Trailer” is next with just the one video followed by “Social,” which has a little widget of Facebook updates and then “Download” which is where you’re able to grab some stills from the movie and of von Trier as well as the movie’s one-sheet.

If you want some background on the production house operated by von Trier and his partners you’ll find it in “Zentropa.” The site then ends with some “Contact Information” for PR, sales and other needs.

In between all those sections, though, are some of the stunning photograph stills of the movie.

The movie does have a Facebook page that features updates on the release and other posts. Not much here, though.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

At least one TV spot was created that played up the dramatic elements of the story and was designed to promote not only the upcoming theatrical release but also the movie’s on-demand availability. It’s short but pretty good at hitting some of the same major notes the trailers do.

Media and Publicity

The movie got its first major publicity push when it was announced (Los Angeles Times, 4/14/11) that it would screen at the 2011 Canne Film Festival alongside features from other big-time directors like Woody Allen, Terence Malick and others.

That Cannes appearance wasn’t all sunshine and roses, though, with the director making comments he had to have meant jokingly about Jews and Nazis (Hollywood Reporter, 5/18/11), comments he later apologized for (LAT, 5/18/11) but which still got him declared “persona non gratis” at the festival, meaning the film could stay in competition but he may not be welcome to pick up any prize it might win.


Well it’s certainly not going to bring any new fans into the von Trier fold is it? No, it’s not as outright offensive, particularly to American sensibilities, as Dogville (a movie I greatly enjoyed as a sort of visualized theater experiment) and the like but it’s also not nearly as accessible as most people will be looking for. The campaign makes it clear that there will be thinking involved in this particular trip to the theater and that’s going to turn off certain audience segments even as it attracts others.

That being said this is a very cool and very cohesive campaign that, I suspect, represents the movie well. The posters and trailer all work well together and the website compliments that nicely with a unique experience all its own. Good stuff from my perspective.