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Dancer in the Dark is a 2000 musical drama directed by Lars von Trier, and starring, of all people, Icelandic singing sensation Björk.
Björk plays Selma Ježková, a Czech immigrant to the U.S. State of Washington in The Sixties. She lives with her son, Gene Ježek (Vladica Kostic) in a trailer home owned by town policeman Bill Houston (David Morse) and his wife Linda Houston (Cara Seymour), and works at a factory. Selma loves Hollywood musicals, and sees them at the cinema with her friend, Kathy (Catherine Deneuve). She is auditioning for the part of Maria in an adaption of The Sound of Music, and throughout the film, she slips into daydreams in which she imagines herself and others around her spontaneously enacting musical numbers. Co-worker Jeff (Peter Stormare) pursues her romantically, to no avail.
Unbeknownst to everyone, Selma is gradually going blind from a hereditary disease, and Gene will eventually suffer the same fate unless she secures an operation for him, hence why she moved to the US. All the money she has been making at the factory is saved as a fund for the operation. When Bill steals said fund so as to hide the fact that he is broke from his wife one day, things do not end well...
- Adam Smith Hates Your Guts: The lawyer presents Selma with a Morton's Fork: He has proof that she's innocent, but he'll only take the case if she pays him the money that Bill stole.
- Something of a Take That against capitalism (lampshaded by the prosecutor).
- Art Shift: see Camera Tricks.
- Bittersweet Ending: Selma is executed for murdering Bill, but just before she's hanged, she learns that the operation for Gene which she spent the money that had been raised for a lawyer who could avert the sentence was succesful.
- Break the Cutie
- Camera Tricks: Alternates between Dogme 95 using blurry handheld cameras to make you feel like you, too are going blind, and 100 stationary cameras simultaneously shooting an uninterrupted Long Take in Technicolor, with singing and dancing (for the scenes in Selma's head).
- Crowd Song
- Doing It for the Art: It's a Lars von Trier film, so...
- Dogged Nice Guy: Jeff.
- Downer Ending: And how.
- Hat Box Full Of Money
- Hey, It's That Guy!: Peter Stormare, Joel Grey
- I Gave My Word: Selma's reason for not Just Eating Gilligan (see below).
- It Got Worse
- Killed Mid-Sentence: Selma, or mid-song, as it were.
- Just Eat Gilligan: If Selma had just revealed Bill's secret (and therefore tell why she had to kill him), she could've been proven innocent.
- Long Take: all the Musical numbers are shot as a continuous Long Take using up to 100 stationary cameras in Technicolor, then cuts between all the footage generated. The rest of the movie is filmed with blurry handheld cameras in the style of Dogme 95, to show how the protagonist is going blind and the musical numbers are what she sees in her head. The result is fascinating because you can tell all the footage of singing dancing was taken from multiple odd angles of one single take. (under a desk, atop a railway car, etc.)
- Low Self Esteem: Selma (and how)
- Lyrical Dissonance: Come on, Selma! Just 100 steps!
- Man Child: Selma (some critics have speculated that she or Jeff may have a slight mental handicap)
- Meaningful Echo / Motif: Whenever Selma becomes frightened or frustrated, incidental sounds (pencils scratching, machines grinding) repeat in her head, and she makes a song out of that. Brutally subverted when she is placed in a noiseless isolation cell.
- Meaningful Name: Possibly Gene. The fact that he has his mother's genes and therefore his mother's sickness is vital to the plot and Selma's motivations.
- Melodrama: Deliberately invoked.
- Mood Whiplash: All the musical numbers. Some of them hard cut to something terrible happening to Selma while she was daydreaming the music.
- Musical: The best musical about an innocent, impoverished woman slowly succumbing to illness and despair since Rent or Les Misérables! And it's shot with handheld realism.
- Musical World Hypothesis: played with.
- Notable Original Music
- Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: English actress Cara Seymour's North American English starts sounding suspiciously Scots-Irish when she gets impassioned in one scene. Possibly averted however by Swedish actor Peter Stormare who, while playing the implicitly American Jeff, doesn't bother speaking with anything but a Swedish accent.
- One-Scene Wonder: Joel Grey plays Selma's Czech musical idol.
- Serendipitous Symphony
- Shoot the Shaggy Dog
- Soap Opera Disease: It is never identified exactly what it is that Selma and Gene have.
- The Musical: As mentioned above.