A review of Dogville (2003, directed by Lars von Trier) by V.M.P, Sydney.
(Reviewed June 2008)
Grace (Nicole Kidman), a fugitive or emissary from the Godfather, takes refuge in the village of Dogville. The villagers are persuaded by Tom (Paul Bettany), a philosopher, writer and moralist, to give her shelter in return for her help with various tasks. The villagers are apparently living blameless lives in harmony with one another, but we are informed that each household has some secret disability, vice or dishonest practice they wish to conceal. Grace is a Christ-figure, representing the grace of God the Father, who, as we discover at the end of the film, has lost patience with the world of men.
Grace brings love, compassion and acceptance to the villagers, and for a while they are glad to accept her help. Her forgiveness extends even to Chuck (Stellan Skarsgard) , who, she reminds him, has also "come from the City" as she has. Chuck may represent Lucifer the Fallen Angel, and he certainly lives up to this character as the story goes on. Tom falls in love with Grace, just as preachers and missionaries do fall in love with the Word of God. It is when Grace makes the villagers own up to their private failings, as in the case of the blind man, that things start to go awry.
Grace spends her earnings on acquiring seven little porcelain figures from the Gift Shop. These may represent seven virtues (as opposed to seven Deadly Sins). When she is forced to destroy them by Chuck's vengeful wife, Grace cries, "I brought them to you", or words to that effect. As the villagers' attitude changes, they compensate by getting Grace to work much harder for them. (Does this imply that those who believe in God demand ever more from Him as the price of their belief?) Her betrayal is initiated by the evil child Achilles whose demand to be spanked suggests some perverse sexuality. His mother seizes on the incident to denounce Grace, and his father, Chuck, is the first to rape her.
Grace's attempted escape justifies the villagers' determination to humiliate and abuse her. When I first saw the film, on a fuzzy VCR, I thought they had attached a millstone to her neck, in accord with Jesus' decreed punishment on child abusers. However, it is not a millstone, but some kind of wheel, so that neat little allegory bites the dust. Grace is prostituted, perhaps as Christianity itself has been prostituted through the ages to gain money, power and privilege. Even Tom comes to regard Grace as a source of inspiration for his planned Magnum Opus on philosophy rather than his great love.
At last Grace is recaptured, or rescued, by the Godfather. Their mutual accusations of arrogance end with Grace admitting that the Father was right. Her attempt to bring truth, love, compassion and forgiveness to Dogville failed. The people are inherently evil, and merit only complete destruction. God has given up on the world He created, and only the animals deserve to survive.
Dogville may represent America only, as the final still shots of destitute people behind the credits seem to suggest. I read somewhere that Lars von Trier was planning a sequel, so unless he plans to continue on another planet, some human life must have been spared in the final firestorm. (Maybe, though, his understanding of the film is completely different from mine.)
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