There is an unforgettable scene in Dogville. It is unconventional, risky, unsettling, and it sums up writer/director Lars von Trier's rage against human hard-heartedness. In a wordless moment, the camera, the actors, the stage and the silence offer us a sobering observation. All that comes before it has set the stage for this moment, when the movie makes its chilling revelation.
Like Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan, Dogville tells a simplistic fable of man who takes care of a stranger while others abuse and take advantage of her. Alongside its biblical references, there are echoes of Greek tragedy, Mark Twain, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Flannery O'Connor. With its 1930s Colorado mountain town setting and the pleasant voice of its narrator (John Hurt in a brilliant unseen performance), the film's most obvious allusions are to Thornton Wilder's celebrated play Our Town.
Von Trier is ambitious to place his story in contrast to such essential mythologies. His films have always had an air of self-importance and indulgence. And yet, while his bombastic style would make Beethoven blush, it is hard to deny his visionary talent. With each film, he brings a sledgehammer to filmmaking conventions. Audiences are compelled as much by his innovations as they are by his willingness to wrestle difficult questions, no matter who gets hurt. Dogville, while not his most original story, becomes the first feature in which the ideas he presents make worthwhile the ordeal of sitting through it.
Again, von Trier has chosen a brilliant cast, led by Nicole Kidman. In Breaking the Waves, Emily Watson had the role that made her an international star. Bjork deserved the awards she won for her uncannily heartfelt performance in Dancer in the Dark. Kidman's ...