Monday, August 17, 2015


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IMDB   28 janvier 2008
Summary: A sublime Nicole Kidman
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A mysterious film in which everything is upside down. No setting really, in fact a nearly empty stage like in a minimalist dramatic production in some avant-garde theater. The only originality is that the camera can look down upon the stage from a higher position, which an audience cannot do. Of course too the camera can move around the stage. This is supposed to express a society that is upside down and besieged due to the depression. Depression in all directions: the mine is closed, there is no work for anyone, survival is the fundamental rule, autarky is the objective of everyday life. But that is not all. A female fugitive arrives one day in this dead mining community in the mountains preceded by

 the sound of gunshots and followed by a car that looks like a gangster's car, and it is. Yet the girl is hidden at first, then accepted, and then things turn sour. The film is about this slow transformation and revelation that human nature is not to be trusted. The girl is given some tasks in a friendly manner at first, and then little by little these tasks become an obligation that everyone expects. Thus the girl is transformed into a domestic slave. The next stage will be the progressive use of her body by all the men and the total hatred the women will feel and express for her. From being morally enslaved she will become physically enslaved with a chain and a flywheel attached to the chain itself attached to a metal collar.

She becomes some kind of bitch or dog used by the villagers for their chores and impulses. The young would-be writer who protected her at first and declared is love at the beginning is also transformed from a rather kind and loving young man into a traitor who accuses her of a theft he had done himself, for her to escape it's true, but himself with his own hands. Then he will little by little consider her as an obstacle between himself and the village, hence an obstacle on his road of laziness and comfort. He will in the end call the gangsters to come and get her out of the village. On that level, simple people in a simple community hit by the depression, the least we can say is that good intentions and civilization are very superficial and very short-lived.

But the worst is still to come. The gangsters come back of course. The girl is the daughter of the boss of the gang, and he gives her the responsibility, if she wants to come back with him out of this hell, to give the order to shoot everyone and burn the village down. And she will demonstrate a tremendous level of arrogance, condescension and cold hatred that was unimaginable before. For the details go to the film and she will be the one who executes, shoots the handsome would-be writer. "There are a few things you have to do yourself," will she conclude. That frozen inhumanity is beyond all limits.

The film thus becomes a demonstration of what human beings can become in extreme conditions. If they can be that rude, brutal, cruel in a situation that has nothing to do with a war, you can imagine what they are ready to do to survive in a situation where life and death are a daily stake. The survival instinct is the strongest motivation for any individual, any group or community and even the human species as a whole. Humane attitudes are in no way natural. So, if you push aside the varnish of good behavior, you find out that many people are bullies when necessary in extreme conditions, even if only a few, and even few of them would be bullies in normal conditions.

Dr Jacques COULARDEAU, University Paris Dauphine, University Paris 1 Pantheon Sorbonne & University Versailles Saint Quentin en Yvelines


How can we make humanity worthy living ?

There is a tremendous lot we could add to this approach. The key to this film is probably at the end as the background of the final credits unwind itself. Dogville is the representative of the most rejected, ostracized and segregated against American community you can think of, the poorest among the poor. They are not even listed anywhere. They do not have the telephone, nor television, certainly not the Internet. They are miserable. They live on tit bits of social benefits, some nearly autarkic means, totally enclosed in their own limits and boundaries, locked away from the world. Let a stranger arrive in strange conditions with some strange mystery behind and they will accept him or her (it’s easier if it is a her) out of the goodness of their hearts at first but as soon as they learn she is wanted down in the valley, outside in the big world they start transforming the favors they were accepting from her for a miserable salary into exploitation: always more for less salary.

And that descent into Dante’s Inferno will go on forever and she will become the men’s prostitute and then the prisoner of the village with chains, wheels attached to her leg and keys on the doors. And finally the only one who was in love with her and she was in love with will turn against her when she refuses his rape as love and accepts his love as rape, which makes him totally frigid, impotent. He will call the gangsters who were looking for her. A gangster who reveals himself as her father.

At this moment there is no escape from the necessity to clean up the place. She cannot forgive them because if she had been in their place she would have done the same things and she can’t think of one single excuse for such a bleak behavior. So rather than surviving with the idea that she is like them she orders her father to get rid of the people and the village, and the mother of the many children (including a baby), the very woman who had been obnoxious enough to destroy her seven porcelain figurines she had bought from the fancy store of the village with her meager salary, is supposed to be made the witness of the killing of every single child of hers one after the other before being killed in her turn.

And finally she confronts her would-be lover Tom, the doctor’s son, the would-be philosopher, the want-to-be novelist who could never be able to imagine anything, except ethical explanations why he would torture her, and she finally shuts him up with only one bullet. “There are things you have to do yourself,” she says. And finally a dog, Moses, is still barking after the village has been burnt to the ground. He is in his kennel and wants to get out. She checks upon him but she does not kill him. She leaves Moses alone in captivity with no people to lead across the Red Sea to die all by himself out of hunger and thirst. Absolute and exquisite torture!

We can wonder what this film is all about. It is about social segregation and social stratification. No matter how low you can go on the social ladder, even the people you would think are on the lowest rung will either find people lower than them or they will put some stranger or strangers in that lower position so that they themselves can gain some greatness, some grandness, some importance. She is white. Fourteen people out of fifteen are white in Dogville. So they do not use color or race to do it. They use the first circumstances to bring her down. She is set under suspicion since she is declared missing by the police and she will have to pay for her safety and anonymity. And pay she will. Some good action will become work, and then the amount of work will be doubled and the pay cut DOWN mind you in proportion. And then she will be raped by all the men, and then she will be chained to the village with a metal wheel attached to her leg and there is no end to her being lowered under the last rung on the social ladder.

This is a lesson on humanity and not in humanity and the final shooting of all these people and burning of the village seem to imply there is no other way but to make such communities extinct, knowing that you can destroy one, another will come because they are like Jack-in-the-box cockroaches: they are not destroyed even by nuclear radiation.

Is Lars von Trier advocating social cleansing? That’s your own responsibility to answer yes he is or no he isn’t. Yes he is, if you take it literally but the social cleansing is done by a gang of gangsters and criminals. So what! So what? No he is not, because it is so excessive that the logic of it is flawed. It is black humor, very dark somber black humor, but it is the type of humor Daniel Defoe used when he advised the Irish to have many children, fatten them and at the age of three sell them on the market just the way you do with piglets or young pigs: as food mind you.


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