Space is pretty big. You’d think there would be enough room for planets and asteroids to zip around without bumping into each other. But no. Meteors hit Earth surprisingly often, and it’s only a matter of time (screenwriters say) before one big enough to do serious damage collides with us. 1998’s Armageddon offered the hope, typical of a Michael Bay film, that there’s no threat that we can’t neutralize with Yankee ingenuity, a truckload of money, and some screen-filling explosions. But Deep Impact (pictured), released that same summer, was less sanguine, perceiving the incoming comet as more of an existential sword of Damocles. Sooner or later, something like this is going to wipe us all out, and the best we can do is be good to each other while we listen to the soothing voice of Morgan Freeman usher us into nonexistence.
2011’s Melancholia took this idea to the next level. The movie is like a gorgeous, somber prayer of mourning, the tearful flip side of Terence Malick’s Tree of Life (also released in 2011). In Lars von Trier’s lush, desolate epic, Melancholia isn’t just an asteroid but a full-size planet, whose imminent collision with Earth may have been brought on by our own suicidal depression. Think of it as a play on both meanings of the word gravity. Even in an apocalyptic comedy like last year’s Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, the asteroid is the existentialist’s doomsday of choice.