Melancholia is a film that is basically built upon the prelude of Tristan und Isolde. Since the movie has a lot of references to the prelude and the prelude’s history, it plays a crucial role in the film, it is impossible to separate them.
The prelude of the Tristan und Isolde opera by Wagner has several importance in this connection and links. These are the fact that a tritone (augmented fourth) is used in the prelude, in the opera the chords doesn’t resolve until the very end of the opera – that is the death of Tristan und Isolde and the Schopenhauerien understanding of the Tristan und Isolde’s story.
The tritone is a chord that creates tension, so much that it was forbidden to use in the pieces in the church music. This avoidance is important, because something otherworldly is found in that chord. And the association with an apocalyptic feeling is perfect. The prelude is heard several times in the film. In the first instances, whenever we heard the triton for the first time, we are shown the planet Melancholia that will eventually destroy the world (prologue, Justine pissing in the golf yard).
The second association is the longing for death. Tristan und Isolde both thinks they cannot find piece in the world, they have a longing for death. In Melancholia, Justine never denies the facts where Claire tries to deceive and calm herself. In fact, the core point of the film is Justine telling ‘’the world is evil, no one will miss it’’. She has this longing for death and she welcomes Melancholia (sunbathing in the light of Melancholia).
Also, we can argue that for Claire, who does not want or accept the end of the world (e.g. asking Justine ‘’where would Leo grow up?’’), it creates an irony. There is an end of the world, world is evil, but still we feel sadness for our own kind and this tragic end although all the science, religion, the escapes we create. We feel her desperation about the situation and we can connect with her, however, we are given a music that is written for the death wish.
If we go deep in the film, solve all the symbolism that is used, we found out that film is mocking with every tradition. Science and the religions that we are so proud of, so connect our future with, find ways to reborn, recreate, escape, is all useless when we have the end of the world. No one has the answer, and all that was a triton, that disturbing sound that creates tension, that leads us to think this cannot be the end, the chord has to be solved into something. And that chord only came in the death, otherwise there will be always some mask we wear in order to survive (Justine trying to go through with the wedding).
The references to the Tristan und Isolde (Justine and Michael ,drinking from the same bottle at the wedding), the apocalyptic feeling that we urge to avoid, the excuses we found for the end, and the piece that will only be found in death could not be derived, if Trier wouldn’t use the prelude of Tristan und Isolde.