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Movie Reviews

Dancer in the Dark



Released: 8th December 2000

Director: Lars Von Trier

Stars:Björk, Catherine Deneuve, David Morse


Reviewer: William McAbee

Lars Von Trier is in my mind a genius. While not every single film that he makes is a masterpiece, in fact the last film I watched by him (Manderlay) I thought was just average; I believe he is one of the smartest filmmakers around in this day and age of cinema. The first film I watched by him was Antichrist and that was a movie that truly blew my mind. It was something that I had never seen before and I loved it. Immediately I had to knowmore about him, his films, and his mind and since then I have tried to understand this man. I recently saw Melancholia and absolutely loved it and decided to go on a Von Trier binge by watching Dancer In The Dark. I knew very little of this film, only knowing that Bjork was in it and that was very questionable in my mind. Still, just seeing Melancholia, I was willing to give this movie a shot and hopefully one again enjoy this film.

Dancer In The Dark stars Bjork as Selma Jezkova a mother of a young boy and factory worker who just loves American musicals. She loves musicals so much; her days are filled with daydreams of singing and dancing in the factory or even on a train. Unfortunately Selma has a unique disease that is taking away her sight slowly will eventually make her blind. She manages to still work at her factory, fooling a doctor even to get permission, and pins hairpins in unbent cardboard so that she can raise and save money. She saves the money in hopes that one day she will be able to pay for a surgery to save her son from the same disease she has. Unfortunately Selma’s landlord (David Morse) has run into money troubles and cannot afford the rich lifestyle he has lived and continues to ask Selma for a “loan” tohelp out. I don’t want to give out too much story so this is where I will stop but know that it gets much more interesting as the story goes on.

Dancer In The Dark was amazing! I absolutely loved this film and found it to be one of the most emotionally exhausting films that I have ever seen. It helps me remember that going into a movie knowing absolutely nothing is the best way to watch a film. It is wonderfully directed, an incredible story, and an ending that will stick in your mind for ages and ages to come. Lars Von Trier knows just how to grab the audience and soak them into a story and then knock them out with a hard punch. I will admit that is what I felt like after this film but I really enjoyed it. Also on Trier’s direction I would say he knows when to pull back and just capture the actors in their characters and let the visuals catch these people in the story. Some directors try to take over a story but he knows when to pull back and capture these wonderful performances.

Throughout the film, Selma has these “daydream” moments where her and everyone around her will break out into song and dance just like her>favorite musicals. At first I won’t lie I didn’t understand why this was happening and I wasn’t sure I liked it; especially since I didn’t enjoy> Björk’s voice. Fortunately, as the film progress, the songs do actually get better and the last few songs actually have some power behind them and add a lot to the film. Von Trier brilliantly changes the visual style of the film between real life and Selma’s dream adding a nice surrealism to the film. Ultimately what the singing does is draw us in as the audience to sympathize for Selma. I will talk about that sympathy later though.

What also works for this film is the amazing performances he was able to>pull out of this cast. I will admit I didn’t think Bjork was going to be> able to act like a tree much less an actually character dealing with so>many deep and personal issues. Who knew? She knocked it out of the park. I thought her performance was extraordinary and really is what made this film incredible. As far as the rest of the cast, Catherine Deneuve adds some nice emotion to the film as Selma’s friend and adds a lot to the final scene. David Morse is heart breaking as Selma’s landlord and trust me you will hate him. It shows you just how good a director is when you can get your cast to give performances like these.

Spoilers Ahead so be careful…Seriously Spoilers ahead, if you haven’t seen this movie DO NOT READ AHEAD

Though, as with most Von Trier films, the story is what carries and ultimately dominates this film. As I said, from the very beginning Von Trier is pulling us in to care about Selma and to want to see her succeed in saving her son. We should it see it coming, but we lose ourselves in optimism and then Trier pulls the rug right under us. The landlord, who is suicidal over the financial troubles, steals Selma’s money and ends up making her kill him to get the money back. Its hard to watch because from one end we want her to get the money for her son but sadly the only way that is going to be possible to kill the landlord. It is a sad sight to watch and from there the film takes a dark, dark turn. She eventually gets jailed for her action and denies any action to save her because the only money she has she wants spent on her son. It is the ultimate sacrifice; she can pay the money to save herself but instead chooses for the money to save her son’s sight.

As the film enters its final act, we stay with Selma as she deals with jail. As time passes and she denies stay, Selma must be hanged for her charges. In her last song, it feels like a combination of a march and a requiem. We stay with her til the end and feel her pain each step of the way. As she walks to her death, it feels like an unstoppable countdown. We as the audience want to jump through the screen and save her but we know we can’t do it. Finally, in the last scene, Bjork takes over and dominates everything. In some of the best acting I have ever seen, Bjork breaks our hearts and tears us down. Even just writing about this scene has metearing up. I never thought a single scene could be so hard to write about. It is beautiful and terrifying at the same time.

That is why I love Dancer In The Dark. It is easy to make hard movies when you think of something like Saw III or Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Being gory is easy in my opinion, but making a hard movie emotionally is genius. To take the audience and take them on an emotional journey that you will never forget is breathtaking. That is why I love Lars Von Trier. He is a genius who knows how to control our emotions. It might be abusing our emotions but I don’t care. It is brilliant, beautiful, and horrifying.

Dancer In The Dark is a one of a kind film. I promise you will not see another film like it. It is emotional and powerful that will stick with you for a long time. I highly suggest it and it stands as one of my all time favorite films. Watch it now!

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