With this last movie I saw, I’d like to begin with the conclusion if I may. Simply because if it would have had a different ending, I’d probably have a drastically different opinion about it in its entirety. I decided to watch Dogville (Lars von Trier) after seeing a trailer for his upcoming film Melancholia. I was intrigued enough to want to see his past work, so Dogville became the three-hour-long excuse for my lack of productivity last night. Anyway, for about three to five minutes near the end of the movie, I thought it may go in another direction. Thank God it didn’t. Because I would have been highly upset at how I spent the prior three hours of my life. Call me vindictive, but this conclusion made it worthwhile to me.
When I first mentioned watching this film, I heard that others had been frustrated by it, which I can completely understand. It’s very Brechtian in that there is no actual scenery like you would expect in a movie, and very few set pieces even. Instead, the locations are present in the form of chalk outlines and labels. Imagine a truck, a bell, a few chairs and tables and that’s about it (and if you previously haven’t heard anything about the film, you would never be able to tell from the trailer). This inhibits any sort of possibility for completely overcoming spectatorial distance, which is the point I guess. So let’s just say I had a healthy mix of frustration and appreciation for this technique. In some instances, I even felt that it worked more effectively than an actual set would have. One such instance is the scene where Grace (Nicole Kidman) has her—to try to use a fairly ambiguous term here—confrontation with Chuck (Stellan Skarsgård). This type of set design allows you to witness that particular scene occurring simultaneously with the other characters going about their activities, which I found to be more compelling, especially when paired with the lighting.
The story of the town of Dogville is also broken up into a prologue and nine chapters, and we are told this at its beginning. I am usually not a proponent of such a method because I inevitable use it to keep track of how far along in a film I am. This time, however, I thought these intertitles fit the film’s overall style. The movie is also narrated throughout by John Hurt. My opinion on the use of narration is very dependent on who is doing the narrating and how opinion it is. Here, it worked. Not so much when Werner Herzog did so in Grizzly Man (2005), where I felt he was being a presumptuous, egoist. But that’s a different story.
As for the townspeople who allowed Grace to stay there, I did not find a single, redeeming person. Considering that von Trier is consistently drawing attention to the fact that we’re watching a film and that it’s not real, I became overly involved (as I tend to do) in the characters’ fate and intensely upset at what was happening. Especially at Tom’s (Paul Bettany) non-actions and cowardice, beginning with the fact that he didn’t even have the guts to say what he really felt to his standing by doing nothing when he should have been doing everything. Hence my initial worry about the conclusion and my relief at how it turned out. Despite my frustration, I really did like and appreciate this movie. Kudos to Grace. Way for her to take the initiative that Tom could only dream of having. And how right. Some things you can’t let others do for you. Some things you have to do yourself.