Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Dancer in the Dark

There are three films to make me physically sick upon first viewing: Requiem for a Dream, Irreversible, and Dancer in the Dark. All three films upset me for different reasons. They reach the darkest imaginations for humanity. These are not films one watches on a regular basis. In fact, two of the three I have only seen once. Dancer in the Dark I have now seen three times. The pain still exists by the films end, but it grows a little less sickening. And, that in itself is worthy of making one more upset.

Dancer in the Dark is billed as Lars von Trier's musical. I would go so far as to call it musical realism. The few, brief musical numbers exist only as dream sequences. Selma's escape from the everyday. The music, performed by Bjork, is not the most comforting or easy to listen to (even if you are a huge Bjork fan). The lyrics range from regret about murder to dealing with blindness. As usual, von Trier's world is bleak.

The performances are almost always spot on. Bjork's amazing scene as she tries to take back her stolen money is one of the most pained film sequences (other than the rape scene in Irreversible) I can remember. Her shrieks, hesitations, sobs, and shaking gestures are all too real.

There are issues throughout the films. Lots of questions as to why Selma does what she does. Her actions are not always explained. One can easily pass them off as a mild form of insanity on Selma's part. I choose to believe Selma is just in the fantasy of how one gets from point A to point B. Also, von Trier is not always consumed with the specifics of the plot. For von Trier, film is about an end result and not always how one finds that end result.

von Trier is smart in the way he ends the film. Selma's hatred for the closing song of a musical as being too over the top is mentioned twice in the film. At the end of this film, von Trier waits before he does exactly what she hates. Two curtains are pulled closed (so smartly used as a finale) and the camera slowly rises up and out. von Trier sticks to the pattern of musical (opening overture of changing colors, dance numbers, solos, and the big finale)throughout the film.



  1. I have to agree that this movie is completely bleak, yet equally powerful and uplifting. It's certainly not a feel good comedy of the year, but I think it encapsulates the human spirit to persevere in the face of all obstacles when trying to achieve something that can seem or feel so small.

    The scene you mention where she goes back to get her money is unbearable, but not because it's bad but because it's so raw. Her performance throughout this movie is totally genuine and who would have ever thought she had this in her. I also think of the moment at the very end where they cover her face and she's screaming that she can't breathe and it just unsettles me.

    I own this movie, so I must be semi-insane to love something so completely masochistic and want to watch on repeat. But that's not the case. I own this movie because it eventually always comes up and I go, "Have you seen Dancer in the Dark?" and I hand it off to be watched.

    I'm not sure how much her immigrant status plays into the storyline, but I feel that von Trier made that a point of emphasis to show the emotional connections but intellectual disconnect between Americans and basically anyone else. Selma was trying to do something good and all of the American characters spun her intentions away from the truth. What she did as a mother to ensure her son's sight be saved is what they latched onto to categorize her as a murderer.

    If you haven't seen Dogville, you must. Now that shit is bleak.

  2. Dogville is one of my Top 3 favorite films. I watch it once a year. Just brilliant.