Dogville may or may not be Dogshit

There is a lot about Lars Von Trier as a person that I really don’t like. For a while I thought I was just afraid of him, with such intense, frightening films and all these rumors about how he treats his actresses. But, reading more about him, I realized I just think he’s a little Danish brat.
Lars von Trier
Which hurts me to say, because being half-Danish (and never having been there…much the same way “von” Trier hasn’t been to the US?) I have an unexplainable greater affinity for famous Danes than for famous Americans. Maybe because there are fewer of them. But, Kierkegaard and Hans Christian Andersen are on our side.

But, unlike Hans and Soren I think Lars and I have very little in common morally. Before I keep going on my little bash of his person, let me say that I have not seen enough of his movies to make any of what I feel/think legitimate. I think my gut reaction to him must stem from his self-contragalatory superiority complex that emerges in interviews where he claims that all big-budget Hollywood movies are bad (the bigger they are, the worse they are) and that America/globalization has destroyed his life, so he is legitimate in making films about America as a morally corrupt (devoid?) society. He’s annoying.

Those are my gut reactions (and his annoying face doesn’t help), but I’ve been trying to look past that as I watch his films. Visually they are extremely interesting, but no one needs me to say that. They’re visually obvious and unique and that’s really cool. I like the idea of Dogme95 (though I will never see Kids or Julien Donkey boy) and I like even more the design stuff he’s doing with Dogville and Manderlay (Our Town was a cool play, too). Roger Ebert (like the asshole he is) thought that Dogville really only stood out because it had these amazing performers in it and that audiences would have been bored to death because of the sparse design. Maybe, but I don’t think so. Dogville and Manderlay immediately suck you in with the format and even unknowns wouldn’t have hindered that (in my opinion, of course).

A while ago I decided that my boycott of Roman Polanski must end. Without knowing anything about his background I had decided that his cowardly flee to France after statutory rape charges was inexcusable. Finding more about his experiences in WWII and the horrible murder of his family, I started paying more attention to his films and realizing that I was in no position to judge an artist as a person. Polanski is incredible, and I’m embarrassed that I had to play catch up because I was so convinced that I was morally superior.

But what about method? As far as I know, Polanski isn’t the kind of sadistic director that “von” Trier is. If you are going to divorce the film from the filmmaker’s character, that is probably a legitimate approach, but can you divorce the method of the filmmaking? He’s mean. This much is clear. As far as his treatment of his female stars, all I’ve heard is rumors and not first hand accounts. It has been suggested that his female characters are stand-ins for himself, and so how he directs can be described as self-hatred? His films are parabels, I understand that, but he constantly subjects these women to horrible, degrading tortures. Aren’t the morals behind his films just mostly malevolent?
Like, Dogville. What I get from Dogville is that people are basically evil. No matter what their intentions are, it is impossible for people to be selfless without the strong presence of the law. Let anyone have any freedom, and they are going to revert to pure evil. Okay, so it seems fascist, right? Not only that, but the movie seems to be suggesting that we shouldn’t even try, because trying only means we have this superior liberal guilt and it’s only going to exaccerbate the problem. I’m depressed already. Maybe it would be better if we were just all dead. Or, at least, if Americans were all dead. Because people can claim all they want that he meant it as a reproach to humanity, but “Young Americans” is playing at the end.

He hates all of these characters. Even Grace is not left off the hook as she commits the most atrocious acts of murder – more horrifying because of the stylizations – and her learned helplessness transforms into malevolency just as harsh as “von” Trier’s. Because doing away with one city is not enough. If this is a parabel, this is indicative of more than just this one expample, and they’re all going to have to burn. Their Grace is their savage deaths and that’s all we can look forward to.

I didn’t hate Dogville and I was really glad I saw it, but it obviously really upset me. Maybe it’s because I can’t accept it as one man’s opinion. Parts of this film feel really true to me, and that’s scary and something I think I should resist. It was like reading The Trial in the middle of my religious conflict (not over)…not helpful. I don’t know…I didn’t exactly mean for this blog to be this scathing personal attack on some dude I know nothing about, but I’m also really pissed off at this guy. I think part of it is that I’m pissed that he can talk about his characters being arrogant for feeling morally superior, but then make such an arrogant film that boldly proclaims this philosophy as true without a bit of a searching quality.


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7 responses to “Dogville may or may not be Dogshit

  1. brian

    so, i think the young americans is a joke, and, if you think about it, it’s a pretty funny joke. or maybe it’s not. maybe i’ve adopted i very bleak world view and find dark humor as the only thing keeping me for depression. but whatever.

    and i think this movie is way less about america than manderlay is. and if it is about america, i kind of think it is in the way america is sort of the natural outgrowth of europe. i see the entire movie as a scathing critique of humanism–it’s kind of a noble, enlightened ideaology (if you’re an [upper] middle class white male) but it also ignores and allows for exploitation, bigotry, murder, genocide, rape, slavery and so on. dogville, however, doesn’t offer any alternative. but in this way i think it’s kind of like candide. but less funny. except for the young american part.

    but globalization is ruining all of our lives.

  2. brian

    and i totally understand why you dislike it.

  3. brian

    i tried to think my way through dogville last night while i was trying to fall asleep and i still don’t know how to make the case that it’s great. obviously it looks so cool and it’s so awesome whenever that dog barks. but it is so dark.

  4. But, see, if it’s a joke, I agree that it’s really funny…but I don’t think it could be. Not with his previous humor. He seems to take filmmaking very seriously. And whether or not the film is a critique of globalization or America specifically, I think it kind of takes cheap shots. Like, even the things we like about our culture are going to fuck us over in the end (even the beautiful mountains).

    But I hadn’t thought of it as a critique of humanism the way you put it. that’s really interesting.

    I’ve been watching his tv mini-drama thing called The Kingdom. I don’t know what I think of it so far…it’s funny like Twin Peaks, but also more on the soap opera side of things. The opening song is probably the best song I’ve ever heard. It sounds like Ramstein did it.

  5. brian

    i watched the pilot of the kingdom. it was pretty weird. i liked how he talked at the end of the episode, in a tux, explaining that he’s really going to get crazier in the following episodes.

    twin peaks is pretty much a soap opera too.

  6. I finished Manderlay tonight. I think it’s a more interesting movie as far as personal philosophies and politics go…and also more complicated, I think. Or maybe that’s just because I always feel like I’m floundering when it comes to race issues. But, again, I really think that song is totally innappropriate at the end. It reminds me of going to political speaches/movies where the speaker is really just preaching to the choir and when he makes these liberal-intellectual jokes everyone laughs, like “aren’t conservatives just ridiculous! Can you believe they even think that way??? It’s hilarious in an ironic way!!! ha!” But substitute “conservative” for “american.” Maybe I wouldn’t even think that way if he didn’t put that picture of Bush praying in between all these horrible images of racism. That was the cheapest shot I think I’ve seen him take so far.

  7. brian

    i mostly think the song choice is funny because i think david bowie is so funny. the bush thing is cheap. most jokes about bush are cheap because they’re so easy now. everybody hates bush. it’s like making paris hilton jokes. so i think the song choice is funny because the movies are so dark and serious and unsettling, so it’s funny to have the light, meaningless song at the end. i think it’s meaningless because lars doesn’t really hate america as much as he wants us to think he does. i mean all his interviews are full of lies. and if he hates america so much, why does he make all his movies in english and with american actors? so if he does hate america, it’s because he sees so much of himself in america, which goes back to your self-hate things. so he’s self-loathing and a little pretentious. but he’s one of only a handful of contemporary film makers who are actually making interesting movies. and i don’t think of him as preaching to the choir since his movies make everybody uncomfortable and includes everybody in his critiques (including himself). but i agree that the bush joke is way too easy and disappointing.

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