Dogville (2003)

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And the Audience Says Woof

It seems to me that Lars von Trier has outdone himself with Dogville (2003). If you loved him before, you'll probably fawn over this picture. If you hated him...well, maybe you shouldn't see it.

Personally, I find von Trier to be an endlessly fascinating and often frustrating filmmaker. That doesn't mean I particularly like him or his movies, but that I'm merely intrigued by him and his work. Dogville is no exception. As with Breaking the Waves (1996), The Idiots (1998) and Dancer in the Dark (2000), von Trier has gone to great lengths in Dogville to alienate his audience and has succeeded absolutely at doing so. I don't think it's his best post-Dogme film [or his worst], but it's easily his coldest.

Where von Trier's personal [and distinct] style was used in his earlier pictures to suggest docudramatic reality, it actually does the opposite in Dogville. Handheld cameras are still employed [and still create of a sort of intimacy between audience and image], but it's fairly obvious that this is no longer an aesthetic choice, but a personal preference [and I believe von Trier has actually verified this himself]. And even if there was some aesthetic purpose to the nature of Dogville's photography, von Trier's other stylistic choices would render it irrelevant anyway. The minimalist and highly presentative set is reminiscent of George Mosher's filmed production of Thornton Wilder's Our Town (1989), and indeed the film seems to be taking many of its cues not only from the theatre and its innovators, but from Wilder's play also. It is this bizarre style – the set, the title cards, the omnipresent voice of the Narrator – that ultimately prevents the audience from ever getting too close to the characters and the story. However [and here's the real conundrum], nobody ever actually said that von Trier was trying to engage us emotionally. Dogville is not a film of emotions, but of ideas – both specifically political and universally philosophical [not to mention aesthetic]. To that end, von Trier was almost wholly successful.

It's all very Brechtian, of course – and all very calculated on the part of von Trier. In one of the film's more uncomforting sequences, Chuck (Stellan Skarsgård) rapes Grace (Nicole Kidman) on the floor of his home, where she has been minding his children. This scene, more than any other, really illustrates how in control of his art von Trier is. He chooses to frame the rape from afar – not intimately as we may expect – and thus, as the set is without walls, the camera seems less uninterested in Grace's plight than it is in the other citizens of Dogville. It's unsettling, because we realise that the camera's apathy is our own. We fail to [really] connect with Grace on an emotional level [as we usually do with the characters in other films] and then we are unsettled by this when we realise it.

But our inability to connect to Grace isn't von Trier's shortcoming as a filmmaker – it's ours as people. The film has been deliberately constructed to show us this, and von Trier is again almost wholly successful in doing so. Yes, he seems very excited by the idea of tricking his audience in order to make them feel bad about themselves. His less-than-subtle manipulation of the audience has prompted many to think of him a sort of cinematic sadist – someone who is "abusing" cinema, and who holds the audience in an eternal state of contempt. I'm not saying that this isn't partly the case [actually, I think it is], but it's certainly not the full one. Brechtian alienation techniques have a far greater purpose than that, and Lars von Trier [slightly skewed though he may be] is not oblivious to this fact.

The theatrical nature of Dogville and its heavy reliance on Brechtian technique clearly suggest that von Trier is sick of audiences going to the cinema to escape the world and its issues – he is sick of audiences "leaving their brains at the door". Is there really anything wrong with wanting to teach? von Trier wants to make the audience think, and maybe even learn a little something about themselves – even if it's something that they may not like. The most contrived moment of the film [and the one in which von Trier's influence feels most ubiquitous] is Grace's extreme change of heart at the film's climax. The scene, like the general artifice of the film's visual style, makes it impossible to really believe what is happening – but that's the whole point. We're not supposed to believe fables and parables; we're just supposed to learn from them. Dogville is not a film you can escape into the false "reality" of – it forces you to think about what is being said as opposed to what is happening. Its mission is not like that of other films and von Trier's is not like that of other filmmakers. As far as Grace's character goes, it's a pretty unbelievable moment [and I would imagine for many, too extreme a turnaround] though in regards to von Trier's manipulation of the audience, it's actually sorta perfect – we've left ourselves open [just like Dogville]. As an audience [and as people], we automatically feel that we deserve the mercy Grace is willing to offer us – but the thing is we don't, and that's the final lesson. We're not worthy of Grace [both the character and the state of being], because we're ultimately no better than dogs. It's not a "nice" lesson to learn, of course, and Dogville is not a "nice" film to sit through – but who on Earth said it was, and who on Earth said it had to be?

At the very least, Lars von Trier knows what he's doing. You just have to ask yourself if that's good enough for you, and it very well might not be. Some would say that von Trier is a genius because he has such an acute ability to manipulate. Others would call him evil. But the only difference between the sort of manipulating done by Lars von Trier and that done by someone like Steven Spielberg is that the former is manipulating you in a way that makes you feel and think things that you might not like, while the latter is trading in more visceral sensations. There's nothing better or worse about either one, of course – they both have their purpose. Whether or not they serve it is the question, and the answer is much too subjective for me to answer. You have to do that for yourself. So see the film. You'll love it or hate it. To each his personal own.
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Wow. That's the best review I have ever seen in this forum.

****
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I love Dogville.

Unlike another intentionally cold experiment from this year, Gus Van Sant's elephant, I was totally wrapped up in this movie. It has a style that many won't respond to, I'm sure, but it's an amazing movie.

Part of the key for its success, for me anyway, was the narration, done pitch perfectly by John Hurt. Like the narrator in Kubrick's similiarly cold Barry Lyndon, the deadpan and darkly ironic sense of humor that the narration brings out juxtaposed with the narrative, provides the humanity and, in an odd way, even a warmth that the minimalistic Becket-like dramatics do not. And the way the final scene is pulled off, with that great dialogue between Kidman and Jimmy Caan (the greatest scene in the flick), it all pays off so perfectly for me.


While I don't think it's the masterpiece that the unique Dancer in the Dark is, it's an excellent movie. I would suspect even if you hate it, it's one that'll stay with you for a while. A very thoughtful and provocative thinkpiece.
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I thought of you after the movie ended, Holden.
And you're right. This isn't one you're likely to just forget.

Meanwhile, it was the first film I've ever been to that people walked out of. I loved it.



"You Couldn't Make It Up...!!!"
Forget that tired ol' Danish Dogme schtick. We here in Europe are pretty jaded with that hard-on in your face slow segue and the retards running around playing pretend...

All I'm looking forward to, as WE all are here in the Outer Herbrides, is the devine Ms Kidman in shackles!!

JR



Enemies are so stimulating.
im wobbling with excitement...i cant wait to see this film. i feel like ive been waiting for it to be realised for ages. must have been a year. ive only seen dancer in the dark but i really liked it.
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I must become Caligari..!
Originally Posted by The Silver Bullet
Meanwhile, it was the first film I've ever been to that people walked out of. I loved it.
I was suprised by how many people walked out when i went,
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It's a god-awful small affair, To the girl with, the mousy hair, But her mummy is yelling "No", and her daddy has told her to go, But her friend is nowhere to be seen, Now she walks through her sunken dream, To the seat with the clearest view, And she's hooked to the silver screen, But the film is a saddening bore, For she's lived it ten times or more...



I wonder if people walked out because it was unlike anything that they could have expected. Like Sandler in Punch Drunk Love and Clooney in Solaris. If they were Kidman fans and been drawn to this movie based solely on that, then they might have been a tad disappointed. It’s not exactly an exciting movie.

I just finished watching it for the first time and was completely blown away by its unique style and the exceptional performances by all of the actors. I didn’t go through the type of self-analysis that you apparently went through though. For me, it showed how oblivious most people are of their own shortcomings because, more often than not, they’re paying more attention to others. Tom exemplifies that perfectly. The Brechtian style that Trier used was very effective. I did feel alienated and unable to empathize with anybody, but I was still able have an emotional attachment to Grace, it was just more of a visceral attachment. I responded to the scenes of abuse inflicted upon Grace and became angry by them. I felt like inflicting harm on most of the township, even the children. This movie may be meant to be more intellectual than emotional, but it worked both ways for me.

One of the best movies I’ve seen in ages.



And don't you just love Jimmy Caan at the end? It's a Hell of a lot of set-up, so if it doesn't come together tightly and with purpose for the finale, t'would be rather a waste. But man, I LOVE that scene in the car between Kidman and Caan. So perfect.



What I liked best about it is the fact that it was so real. The way they communicated was exactly what you'd expect of people with the type of relationship they had.

I'm wondering, did you agree with Grace?



I certainly understood Grace's choice. It's probably the more human, though obviously less humane, decision. Odd how often those two things are in conflict, the human and the humane. The way she delivers the line about Vera's children - chilling. But again, understandable. I think we'd all like to imagine we'd have gone the other way were we in Grace's position, but I think we also know most of us would have made that exact same choice.

Great movie.



That may be the entire point of the movie. What we percieve ourselves to be and what we are in reality. We are human.

I agree. Great movie.



A system of cells interlinked
Absolutely incredible review....

The talent on this site continues to amaze me...

_S
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I didn't realize that Kidman backed out of the next two installments of the trilogy until just now. It looks like Ron Howards daughter Bryce will be Grace for the rest of the series.



Yeah, that's old news. Too bad. But, maybe having three different "Graces" will be a blessing in disguise? I like Kidman a lot, and she was perfect in Dogville, but there are lots of great actresses out there.

How about using Bettany's wife, Jennifer Connelly? She can be my Grace any day.



Does the fact that Trier seems to be totally anti-American bother you at all? Didn't the end credits scream propaganda? I doesn't bother me all that much, because Dogville seemed so universal and I didn't really pick-up its possible anti-American message until the end. By then it was too late, I already loved it.



Originally Posted by LordSlaytan
Does the fact that Trier seems to be totally anti-American bother you at all?
Lars von Trier is anti-humanity [which in this day an age amounts to anti-apathy and anti-hypocrisy]. To say that he has a specific distaste for America is to miss the point.

And I'm glad you didn't.



Originally Posted by LordSlaytan
Does the fact that Trier seems to be totally anti-American bother you at all?
No. First of all, I don't agree it's that simple. Lots of so-called professional critics of the film colored their entire review of the film that way, which I find baffling and shortsighted. But while he is definitely making points about human society and using The United States as the prime example, no, I don't find this somehow offensive. Especially since I largely agree with him.

But I hadn't mentioned the end credits yet, so I'm glad you brought it up. I think they work rather brilliantly, and I can honestly say a David Bowie song is about the last thing I was expecting. But from what I can tell, a lot of the negative reviews were more about the feeling of the end credits than the nearly three hours of what came before it, which is bizarre. I think the tone and points of the end credits are a nice juxtaposition with the body of the film - again, like John Hurt's perfect narrator.


It's not going to be truly released theatrically in The States until late March, but I'm curious to find out what the response is going to be. If it so fiercy divided the elite porofessional critics who saw it at various worldwide Film Festivals and such, wait until the folks from local, smaller markets take a look. I'm sure the Rotten Tomato meter won't be even close to fresh.



Originally Posted by Silver Bullet
Dogville (2003)
Careful… your talent is showing…
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I agree with your sentiment Holden. It hadn't even truly occurred to me until I went to IMdB and read some viewer responses. To me, like I said before, this story is more universal than secular. If anything, it showed that people who are dirt poor and without hope can succumb to humanities darker side more readily, but even that isn't the real message.

The end credits did surprise me, but it didn’t make me feel that I was under attack. If he was trying to attack the US in that way, he wouldn’t be any different than Tom. As matter of fact, he would be just like Tom, and therefore admitting that he is no different from anybody else out there.

I have a feeling that I’ll be pondering this movie even after my third viewing.