Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Dogville: A Bleak Study of the Wretched Nature of Human Beings

Pronunciation: mi-'san(t)-thr&-pE
: a hatred or distrust of mankind

Dogville (2003) on Arts Central kept this film buff up till late last night. Though it ended at 1am, unresolved thoughts persisted in my head till sleep eventually claimed me.

Moral of the story: don't try to sleep right after a "provocative & beautifully luminous" film.

Lars von Trier's much raved-about film is a bleak study of our inherently wretched nature. It begs the answer to the question, if you can do no wrong, and people around you do you wrong, what do you do?

It begins with a helicopter view of the curiously stage-like set; doors, walls & everyday objects have to be imagined where drawn lines and minimal props are used instead.

Nicole Kidman plays Grace beautifully - as always, she looks stunning - a naive and optimistic fugitive who is at first reluctantly accepted by the reticent citizens of Dogville, a drab and depressing community set in America. They grow to even love her kind and friendly ways, but as the film's "Big Man" puts it, their selfish instincts inexorably take over and Grace is sucked into a cycle of silent guilt and reciprocating what is perceived as hospitality. Eventually it degrades to such a deplorable situation of abuse and rape yet somehow these citizens justify their acts to placate their conscience. Even her lover abandons her to save his own skin but returns to dismiss his cowardice as a result of fear and even to claim her sexually.

Me, the viewer, is made to experience the entire gamut of emotions from sharing the joy of Grace's acceptance and later, a hope that escape will bring a new life. Then genuine betrayal when the escape is thwarted and dismal horror follows where the community utterly pours its malice on her. Grace is vindicated though she gives the command to her gangster father to torch and gun Dogville, and even repaying one woman in the exact manner she had shattered Grace's pride and joy. But finally it dissolves into a wretched feeling of guilt where I find myself gunning for Grace to "kill them, kill them all" even before she'd made the decision to.

All in all, Dogville is bleak and yet accurate - in some ways - in its depiction of human nature.

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