It is very possible that last night I experienced the worst film ever made. It was long, it was boring, and it made absolutely no sense. It was filled with hideous imagery and contained not one logical causal connection in its actions. The shots were done horribly; and most importantly it made post-modernism (an otherwise acceptable genre) seem just plain stupid.
Dear Lars: please stop making bad films. Sincerely, The Misanthropic Housewench.
It was Dancer in the Dark that my husband and I were watching – late at night, in bed. I was looking for a tear-jerker, and my husband thought that for sure this would get the waterworks flowing. But within a few scenes of this film – which had so much potential to be good – I was flashing back to another horrendous viewing experience months prior in which I was forced to watch a film vaguely reminiscent in its oddities, that being the Von Trier classic Dogville.
Dear Lars: please, please, please stop making films in which the storyline is completely neglected in favor of an attempt to be avante-garde. Sincerely, The Misanthropic Housewench.
What Von Trier seems to be doing is wonderful – he challenges the viewer to look differently at the aesthetics of film; he raises thematics that many filmmakers have not ventured into for fear of losing widespread support; he questions the traditionalism with which film continues to take – decades after postmodernism has taken a forefront in independent filmmaking. But what Von Trier also does while doing all this is spread himself thin with abstractions to the point where he loses any shred of good-ness through the entire course of his films.
Dancer in the Dark is a story of a young woman who brings her son to America from the Czech Republic in the 1960’s for an eye operation. She has a degenerative eye disease that is steadfastly leading to blindness, and her son will need an operation that only the American doctors and paychecks can provide. So she works in a plant, lives in poverty, scrimps and scrapes on everything; all the while never telling anyone of her disability for two reasons: (1) so that she can continue to work for the money she needs for his operation; and, (2) so that the son does not find out.
Dear Lars: please stop casting Bjork in your films. Sincerely, The Misanthropic Housewench.
But Selma (the main character – played by none other than Bjork) needs to escape from this reality of impoverished conditions and so has to escape by means of daydreaming that her entire life is a musical. In doing this, she ends up causing a problem at work which she gets fired for; followed by her character committing a number of ridiculous acts that culminate in her getting arrested for murder. In short, Selma escapes from reality to a point that (in the end) only hurts her son more as a result of of her ultimate stupidity.
If Lars Von Trier was going for frustration in this film – he got it. One cannot help but watch this film and question – “what kind of a mother is this?” How concerned can Selma possibly be about her son if she cannot even stop daydreaming long enough to do her job right? How concerned about his eyesight is she – in the end – if she makes decision after decision that ends in tragedy? Selma ends up murdering her landlord because he steals her money and will not give it back – the money she had worked so hard to save for her son’s eye operation. But in murdering her landlord, she only does her son harm. From this point on in the film, Selma makes one decision after another that can only lead the viewer to say – “she is not a good mother by any stretch of the imagination – she is nothing more than selfish and stubborn and insane.”
Dear Lars: if you are going to make a film, please give your characters at least half a brain to think with. Sincerely, The Misanthropic Housewench.
It is a downward slope for Selma. When she is on trial for the murder of her landlord, all the evidence comes out against her because she had been hiding her disability. But when she is put on the stand and has an opportunity to redeem herself, she sits there like a complete dolt. She answers complex questions with simple “yes and no” answers. She does not explain herself. And in the ultimate of offenses, when asked why her landlord stole her money, she says “I promised I wouldn’t tell.” She is a complete and utter moron.
But it gets even worse. Selma is given an opportunity to appeal and finds out that the money she saved for her son was going to be used for the attorney. So she says she does not want to appeal and, instead, will accept her death sentence. All the while, though, she is only concerned that her son will find out he has a degenerative eye disease. She says that her principle concern is him finding out about that prior to being able to have his surgery – because “it will cause him worry to know he has an eye disease, and the worry will make the eyes worse and the operation will not work.” So, in turn, she takes the death sentence to make sure her son has not a care in the world.
Here is where I must ask – during the course of making this film, did Lars Von Trier ever consider the stupidity of this premise? Selma wants her son to have no worries so his eyes do not get worse, so she accepts a completely unjust death sentence? I am not sure about Mr. Von Trier, but I know for a fact that if my mother was sentenced to death when I was 12 year old, this would result in a lot more stress, strain and worry than the simple knowledge of a correctable, degenerative eye disease could ever cause.
Dear Lars, please stop destroying postmodern filmmaking. Sincerely, The Misanthropic Housewench.
I can see that if Von Trier was going for a postmodern and surreal landscape in Dancer in the Dark, he would try to combine the avante-garde with a more untraditional style of filmmaking. This would be wonderfully put together if only his storyline had a little more cohesion to it. Or, conversely, none at all. Where Lars Von Trier errs in this film, though is when he gives the illusion or intention of cohesion, but ultimately no underlying theme at all. It is all or it is none – there is no middle. The viewer is left confused – is this the story of an insane woman, deluded with reality? Or is this the tale of a loving mother who only wants the best for her son? Is this a tale of injustice in the world? Or is it a story of the lower class? All these themes are introduced, and yet none are fully developed to allow the viewer to really know what is going on. Even combining them could have been done in a better way – one in which the viewer left the film with an actual emotional response, rather than just a frustration over the mix of emotions and ambiguity of the storyline. If not this, then Von Trier could have had no cohesion to the film. He could have made his point quite well if only he worried less about Selma’s dramatic speeches about her son, and more about the aesthetics of a postmodern film.
Dear Lars Von Trier, Please understand that while postmodernism is intended to enhance the subjectivist experience, there is still an objectivity in the world that your viewer needs to grasp in order for your point to get across. You, yourself, have outlined “rules” in filmmaking, and while it is commendable to break out beyond the rules, you still must appeal to the needs of those who want very much to enjoy your films. Ironically, by trying to enhance the subjective, you completely alienate your viewing subjects. Sincerely, The Misanthropic Housewench.
For a little more Von Trier entertainment: