Help! Lars von Trier Dogville

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Help! Lars von Trier Dogville

Postby Sara » Sun Sep 04, 2005 7:35 pm

Can anyone help me make sense of the whole of Dogville?

The first hour I was absolutely in love with the film and its setting (shades of Thornton Wilder's Our Town.)

But the ending left me confused and wondering what the point von Trier was trying to make.

They talk of forgiveness, arrogance, being honest and open, and --- then all hell comes at the end.

Help, please.


Re: Help! Lars von Trier Dogville

Postby wpqx » Sun Sep 04, 2005 7:38 pm

Let me re-post my reactions to it, it may help you out.

May the lord bless Lars Von Trier. With Dogville, my faith in cinema has been fully and faithfully restored. Following a seemingly endless barrage of mediocre films, I began to wonder if I was numb to great cinema. Had I reached a point where I was burnt out on film, and lost any potential feeling that may derive from cinema, or was I just watching the wrong films? I began to look for known classics, films that should be enough to restore any doubting cinephiles faith. What I found was increasing indifference. With few exceptions I was rather passive to cinema. Even the few great films that I saw, didnt profoundly affect me the way that only the truly great films can. That all changed when I watched Dogville.
With the prologue I found myself asking the question of whether this film could do it. I knew that it was something different, and Dancer in the Dark taught me that Von Trier was capable of producing some extraordinary movies. I had to relax though, and not try and convince myself that this film was great, just let it do the convincing for me. I soon realized that this sparse stage piece complete with highly literary narrative was going to be the tone for the entire film. Knowing Von Trier, I was certainly ready for the most extreme cases of melodrama.
With this understanding I let the film continue. It was a long haul, nearly three hours, and for about the first time in months I managed to watch a film at home straight through without stopping to take a break, or just generally get bored. From Nicole Kidmans introduction I took to her character. Her performance throughout may very well be the best of her career, certainly better than the Oscar winning turn she had in The Hours. Seeing the crop of recognizable faces filling out the rest of the population of Dogville I wondered if this would be some random whos who of character actors and stars trying to show how great they can act, or whether it was just a cast assembled from Mt. Olympus. Thankfully Von Trier knew what he was doing, and every actor seemed like a perfect fit.
I must admire Kidmans choice to do the film. Lots of indifference has greeted her last several films, but one thing that she has avoided (unlike other recent best actress winners) is turning movie star. Sure the case can be made that Kidman is a born movie star, she certainly looks the part, but she wasnt an actress who decided that they were gonna take it easy because they already won their award. This performance was certainly enough to earn her another nomination, but lets not get into Academy credibility right now.
Von Triers attack on small town America is scathing. He opens the film as if this little village were out of a Vincente Minnelli musical. Everyone knows each other, is polite, and scared of the big city folk. As we progress we get a sense that this is a heartwarming story of small town life. A triumph for simple people and simple ways, and a tale of a young lost woman finding her way amidst the mountains of Colorado. For any other (and many lesser) director, this probably would be the gist of the tale, but look at who were dealing with.
The chapter titles serve to keep the literary theme of the film, as well as give us a brief heads up as to whats about to happen. You at one point are scratching your head and at the same time laughing at Veras (Patricia Clarkson) oldest son telling Grace that hes been bad and needs to be spanked. You start to realize that this town isnt exactly normal, and the complacency of the first half is about to rapidly deteriorate. Perhaps my only objection on the part of Von Trier is the uncharacteristically under-dramatic raping. Grace seems a bit passive, and there doesnt seem to be much indication of the psychological impact of it upon her. Perhaps the goal was more to show her as a victim unable to go anywhere for help, so in Von Triers eyes all she could do was accept it.
As the film continues it becomes more perverted, and the women become cruel. It is clear from the start that Liz (Chloe Sevigny) is jealous of Graces looks, despite what she may say. Which she at first is appreciative of her, by taking some of the prying eyes of the men away from her. As time goes by though, Liz finds that none of the towns men seem to pay her any mind, and what might have been just a slight case of envy at a pretty face becomes hatred. As Vera finds that her husband is forcing himself on Grace, she doesnt lash out at him, but rather Grace. Martha, on the other hand just seems to go along with whatever anyone else does. She is a bit simple minded and I view her as a bit of a victim as well.
The tale is redemptive though, but not in any way like we might have expected. There is a change in morals, there is a turning point, and there is a moment of self-discovery for Grace. Even when it appears as though we know its come and have figured out what makes Grace tick, well theres Von Trier to slap us in the face and let us know that we know absolutely nothing about this character weve been with for the past 2 and a half hours. However, I wont mention what revelation occurs, but I sincerely thank our writer-director for giving me that oh so necessary jolt. Grace is vindicated, and then some, and I for one cant help but be amazed at a happy ending (?) to a Lars Von Trier film.

Re: Help! Lars von Trier Dogville

Postby Sara » Sun Sep 04, 2005 7:57 pm

Thanks, wpqx. That was helpful.

However, I still don't know what the real "message" of the film was.

You talk about a "turning point." I guess I really don't quite get it.

I don't understand Grace. I think I understand the people of Dogville better than I do Grace. Dogville seems like all the people in little towns that I know! Human. Fragile. Cunning. Deceptive. Tragic. Good, yet willing to turn on a dime.

But Grace? I don't know her. (Or do I?????)


Re: Help! Lars von Trier Dogville

Postby A » Fri Sep 09, 2005 4:31 am

I haven`t my review on the film anymore, as it got deleted with the old page. I agree with wpqx on many points, but he didn`t want to spoil the film, so I don`t know how much.

in my opinion Grace is the real villain of the film. The townspeople are all ordinary folk, and everything goes "well" until the middle, when von Trier luckily doesn`t end the film, but shows the consequences of Grace`s behaviour. The best line in the film - and the most important one - is imo when Grace`s father (James Caan) in the end, tells her that she`s the most arrogant of all persons (which she is!). Grace isn`t a "victim", because she`s in part(!) responsible for the townspeople`s behaviour. She acts like a saint throughout the film, like nothing affects her, like she has no personal views whatsoever, always doing what she`s told. A masochistic Martyr (like some former von Trier`s characters) that brings heaps of destruction upon herself and others. But of course the other people go way too far in their behaviour and are responsible too. In the end Grace realizes her failure and gross dishonesty and egotism (she wasn`t showing her feelings and thus her personality to the people; she was just acting for them and most of all herself), but also (which is equally important) the even worse failure of the townspeople. The message is (besides what i already mentioned), that everyone is responsible for his actions, and the tragedy of the "american" people is that they do what they do in the film out of ignorance, because of the (capitalist) society that exerts huge pressure on them through structural violence. The people act "insane" because of the society they live in, but they are also responsible themselves, because as human beings they should be capable to avert certain behavioral patterns. Grace decides to kill them in the end, because she has come to the conclusion, that they have lost the right to be regarded as human beings after the psychic torture they have put her through (even if it was in some cases unknowingly, because of society`s conditioning). Although it may appear drastic that the town is wiped out, I agree with this step (meaning that i would have done so myself). But interesting is also, that Grace who has already loaded much guilt on herself through the previous actions, she equals herself with the townspeople in terms of "guilt" when "she" kills them, while at the same time proving her "humanity" (meaning that she becomes a moraly "better" human being after taking the gun in her hands and killing her "boyfriend" - which sounds paradox but isn`t). What happened to her was in the end too much a human being could/should take.
The end of the film shows still photographs of depression america, and how this society dehumanized the people. Speaking in terms of Dogville, the society (an almost invisible outside force - besides the FBI) dehumanized the people so much that in the end they lost their humanity completely. Grace was also a victim of this, but more through her own making.
In the end all are victims and perpetrators at the same time, but only Grace learns her lesson. The others have failed to "redeem" themselves and escape the system (notice her last conversation with her "boyfriend" before she shoots him).

Spoiler end

There are some other points as well, but this is basically what makes the film great.

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