Cinema Club: Dogville (2003)

Posted on December 5, 2013


Dogville (Lars von Trier, 2003)

(First of all, this was about my 84th attempt at watching this film all the way through. I had previously seen the first 10 minutes many times, only to be stopped by various circumstances.)

A tour de force does not even begin to cover it.

Dogville is practically three hours long. There is no way to avoid that, and it may seem a little daunting to begin with. Three hours is a long time to do anything, let alone watch a bloody movie. But three hours it is, and my initial skepticism was pretty much obliterated by what came. As a viewer, a not particularly mentally cinematic-orientated viewer, I went through so very many different emotions during the 178 minutes of this film that I was genuinely exhausted at the end of it, not to mention confused, enthralled, appalled and thrilled.

The first hour of the film was borderline endearing. The entire movie takes place in a fictional town called Dogville, represented here by chalk outlines on a bare stage. There are next to no props throughout the whole movie, leaving the focus purely on the performance, story and ideas. To call it sparse would be an understatement. Nicole Kidman plays Grace, a woman who turns up in Dogville on the run from gangsters. She is immensely vulnerable, and is found by Tom, a faux-philosopher who acts as something of a spokesperson for the tiny town. After a quick meeting, the town decides to protect Grace. Dogville really is a dying dead village, and the arrival of this beautiful thing in need of their help acts as something of a pick-me-up. Still, she has two weeks to prove her worth in the town. The residents are initially suspicious, but they soon take to Grace. She is slowly accepted by everyone, except of course the token angry redneck bloke, Chuck. He eventually subsides, and the town unanimously votes for her to stay.

From then on, everything starts to unravel somewhat. The police arrive with ‘Wanted’ posters bearing Grace’s face, and the suspicion returns. Because of the perceived danger, Grace is made to work longer hours for less pay. The treatment of her turns from kind to cold to downright rough. She begins to be blackmailed by practically everyone in the town, which leads to her being raped by the aforementioned token angry redneck. My notes at this point descended into a trail of swear words and laments. She plots with Tom to escape, and they bring Ben the dumb truck driver into the plan. He double-crosses her of sorts, and not before raping her in his truck as well. She is returned to Dogville, where she becomes a practical slave. And by slave I mean slave in every meaning of the word, be it work or sexual. This portion of the film gets gradually more and more difficult to watch, as Dogville descends into complete evil. Even Tom, seemingly a rock of sanity throughout, fails her. The town wants rid of her, and they call the mafia in to come and take her away.

Which kinda backfires on them.

Redemption arrives for Grace, as it is revealed that the terrifying mob boss is indeed her father. Given a choice, she decides to return to the city with the mob and take on the responsibilities that requires. Of course, this isn’t without burning down all of Dogville first and killing it’s inhabitants. In hindsight this is a particularly grim ending, but I found myself thrilled by it. And therein lies the beauty of Dogville. The first hour of the film shows the good of humans, all be it the initially guarded type. Helping others is pushed to the fore, doing things that don’t need doing for the joy of helping others.

The next two hours show how easily evil can manifest itself. Given total unchecked power over anything, and the true nature of an individual might just make itself known. Once Chuck had knocked the door down, evil flooded through. It is a compelling picture of the darkness of humanity. The three hour length eventually feels completely vital. The tension builds and builds and builds, and the eventual redemption is as much a release for the viewer as it seems for Grace. On the subject of Grace, Nicole Kidman blew me away here. She isn’t alone in a great performance, but she certainly stands out above them all. The lack of props gives the viewer no option but to focus on performance, and Kidman is stunning. Her prowess as a good actress has never been in question, but this is the first time I’ve been genuinely slapped in the face by her quality. She is astounding.

The lack of props also proves to be something of a masterstroke. Whilst jarring to begin with, at no point did I find myself craving a tree or some sort of variation. The repetitive nature of the surroundings merely adds to the claustrophobic feel as Grace goes from fugitive to prisoner to slave to destroyer. Dogville couldn’t, and shouldn’t, look any different.

An absolute masterpiece. Even with my poor eyesight, I can see that.

Posted in: Cinema