Kiefer Sutherland ‘Melancholia’ Oscar Pedigree


12 December 2011| No Comments on Kiefer Sutherland ‘Melancholia’ Oscar Pedigree     by Sean Chavel


The frustrating, sometimes slow, but immeasurably brilliant “Melancholia” features many remarkable attributes, but Kiefer Sutherland is the most overlooked. Extracting the brilliance of Sutherland’s performance is just as meaningful as recognizing the grace in George Clooney’s performance in “The Descendents.” I didn’t realize Sutherland’s greatness until a couple of weeks after I saw the film. Sutherland doesn’t have much of a chance at getting an Oscar nomination, but I believe he belongs to the pedigree of outstanding work in 2011.

In Lars von Trier’s looming end of the world odyssey “Melancholia,” a planet of the title’s name has travelled across the universe on a collision course with planet Earth. Sutherland’s tycoon and hobbyist astronomer, John, is certainly on the conservative side of beliefs that this planet, i.e., off-orbit asteroid, is a fly-by and not a cause for alarm. His wife Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is becoming convinced by the collective mass hysteria that Earth is days away from doom.

Getting married at John’s opulent estate is Justine, who is sister to Claire (played by Kirsten Dunst, a true but worthy Oscar front-runner). John is doing this all as a big favor, the wedding bash is completely being funded by him. When Justine doesn’t seem to be making the most of her lavish festivities, John lets her know of his displeasure. The money spent on the party not being respected, according to him. Justine is perceived as being discontent and has hastily married to someone she does not love. But to Justine, any money left is not going to matter much because she is a believer that planet Melancholia will doom Earth in days. Could the slapped together wedding just have been an excuse just to get family together for a last time?

The marriage dissolves overnight, and Justine lets her husband go on his departure. Justine will remain at the estate with John and Claire indefinitely. John gripes to his wife Claire about her sister’s ingratitude. But he’s rich and largely unworried by much in life.

In a few days, the radiantly cheerful John welcomes with his telescope for the fly-by arrival of Melancholia. We see what an excited father he is to be sharing with his young boy this once in a lifetime astronomy opportunity, so besotted he is that in the twilight of the night he awakens everybody for this momentous event. The following morning, he continues with his excitable fixation peering up at the skies. This is an occasion of excitement, not to entertain his wife’s pessimistic fears.

What makes “Melancholia” haunting with its absolute impact has a lot to do with Sutherland’s cowardly behavior in the last half of the film. Sutherland is a conceited rich man, but when you have that much money how could you not resist but feel so prominent and imperial over the lives of others? In conjunction for his character, Sutherland borrows some of the cocksure coolness of Jack Bauer, Sutherland’s signature character from the long-running TV series “24.” This “borrowing” is not a performance weakness, they are compelling shadings. Because ultimately, when Sutherland’s face caves into a gnarled expression, and he rashly chooses cowardly dismissal from his wife and child, the performance has found its greatness.

We are deeply moved at the movies most often by performances such as Clooney’s in “The Descendents.” It’s easy for Clooney to play a man whose flaws magnify while under the duress that his character is put through. Yet what we are in awe with is how Clooney invests so much dignity and valor through a challenging situation. It’s something to marvel over, if only most of us demonstrated the kind of grace that he possesses.

But here in “Melancholia,” Sutherland has us not marveling ultimately. But he is imparting a huge impact of food for thought on the audience. He starts as a rich man of inimitable grace only to crumble those attributes. A real gentleman would never give up on his wife and son with such cavalier disregard. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that Claire and Justine are deserving of infinite patience, but it’s John who proves that he has patience for none. If I am to progress as a man, I have learned from one film “Melancholia,” and one performance by Sutherland, that I hope that I never crumble into the disgrace as demonstrated as this one. Without a doubt, Sutherland’s performance is a big deal.

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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.


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