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Dogville is a minimalist drama directed by Lars von Trier and starring, among others, Nicole Kidman, Paul Bettany and Lauren Bacall. It's based on the poem "Jenny die Seeräuberbraut" ("The Pirate Jenny" or "The Black Freighter") from Bertolt Brecht's The Threepenny Opera. It's also inspired, in part, by Friedrich Dürrenmatt's play The Visit. It is very, very hard to watch, and not for kids, despite getting a 12+ rating in some countries.
The story focuses around Grace, a woman running from The Mafia, who hides nearby Dogville and is found by Thomas Edison, Junior (no relation). Tom presents her to the townsfolk of Dogville who, at first, are reluctant to take care of her and accept her favors, but as time passes, they are more than willing to have Grace to do all the work around town. And all the... work around town.
The film is notorious for being shot in one sound stage, with the sets drawn on the floor and only a bare minimum of props visible. The minimalist aspects of the film, like the plot, are based on Bertolt Brecht's epic theatre: Brecht once said a play never needs to be more complicated than "a man on a street corner re-enacting an accident for a crowd". He also stated that an actor should always be presented as themselves playing a character instead of as a character, to prevent total immersion, and to encourage critical reception. It shows.
At first it was conceived as trilogy, and the sequel, titled Manderlay (based in part on Brecht's opera The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny) takes Grace (now played by Bryce Dallas Howard) to the Deep South and comments on racism, but it was not as well-recieved as Dogville was. The third installement, Washington, may never get made, but let's hope.
The film is highly popular as a topic of scientific research, and at least half of all publications about the film mention its trauma-inducing psychological effects. About half of those, in turn, focus on it.
Dogville offers examples of:
- Aristocrats Are Evil: Or in this case, rich people are evil Averted with the townsfolk who manage to be evil while being miserably poor.
- Asshole Victim: The people of the town are all such massive pricks that you don't feel sympathy for any of them when Mafia Princess Grace orders the mobsters to kill them all.
- Break the Cutie: Grace.
- Break the Haughty: Vera
- Cassandra Truth: Chuck is never quite convinced Grace is what she seems she is. At the end he's right.
- City in a Bottle
- Confession Cam: Used by the director, so the actors could cope with the gruesome shooting. It's on the DVD extras.
- Dawson Casting: Intentionally so. Grace seems to be barely out of puberty. She's played by Nicole Kidman.
- The Ditz: Ben Henson, no matter how much he studies, he continues to be as dumb as a doorknob.
- Elephant in the Living Room: Mr. McKay is blind, everyone knows he's blind, yet nobody dares to mention such thing in front of him.
- Even Evil Has Standards: The Mafia, who are quite comfortable with murder and extortion, are horrified and outraged when they discover that Grace has been abused and chained to her bed. Of course, this is most likely because she was the daughter of their boss.
- Fridge Horror: In the end, Grace has the mobsters kill all the human citizens of Dogville and all the homes burned down. At the end, we see an aerial shot of the city, where all the chalk lines of the homes are gone, and the bodies of the citizens are lying in the areas the homes were. The dead citizens are lying like they are sleeping, no blood, and no signs of damage from the burning buildings. We are getting the kind look at twenty-some people who were shot repeatedly and left in burning buildings.
- Also, child actors were on stage for the rape scene. They must have known what was being acted out and there were no walls on set!
- Humans Are Bastards: Something of a common theme in Lars von Trier's work.
- Hypocrite: The townsfolk find it increasingly easy to rationalize and justify their increasingly exploitative and abusive treatment of Grace.
- In Which a Trope Is Described
- Infant Immortality: averted, heavily.
- Ironic Echo: Grace tells the mobsters to kill a kid named Jason first, then tell his mother that if she can hold back her tears they won't kill the rest. This comes after the woman in question smashed the dolls that Grace had bought with money she got from helping the townspeople, telling her that if she could hold back her tears she wouldn't destroy the rest.
- Kick the Dog: Happens a LOT in this movie, and the movie showcases the dangers of Dog Kicking.
- Kick the Son of a Bitch Grace may have been wrong in ordering the deaths of the townspeople but it's hard not to understand why she did it.
- Kill'Em All
- Made a Slave: Implicit from the beginning, made real in Chapter 6.
- The Mafia: The people looking for Grace.
- Mafia Princess: Grace turns out to be one.
- Minimalism: in order to focus more on the characters and their actions and avoid immerision in the story (related to Bertolt Brecht ideas about epic theater) the entire village of Dogville drawn with chalk in the floor in a soundstage.
- Even the town dog, Moses, is just a drawing on the floor. Until the very final moment in the movie, where the drawing shifts into an actual dog, barking at the sky. The dog being the only living thing remaining in the village makes this mildly creepy.
- Also pays off in a big, BIG way when Grace is raped. The audience can see the crime taking place - and can also see the townspeople milling around obliviously while it occurs.
- Middle of Nowhere Street
- Painting the Fourth Wall: On many different levels. Including a textual example: when Grace quotes directly from "The Pirate Jenny", she is genuinely shocked by what she says, and the narrator explains that Grace is wondering where such words would come from. Grace proceeds to accept her identity as a Jenny-character and act out the ending of "Pirate Jenny" almost to the letter.
Tom: Although using people is not very charming, I think you have to agree that this - specific illustration has surpassed all expectations. It says so much about being human! It's been painful, but I think you'll also have to agree it's been edifying, wouldn't you say?
- Pay Evil Unto Evil
- Pet the Dog: A quite literal example.
- Rape as Drama
- Resignations Not Accepted: Heavily subverted. Although Grace is held captive and her attempts to leave just lead her right back to the village, it turns out to be the result of her own stubborn decisions.
- Shoot the Dog: Quite literally averted.
- Shout-Out: Some lines in the film are directly lifted from "The Pirate Jenny", most notably: "Nobody gonna sleep here...".
- So Beautiful It's a Curse: Liz.
- The Other Darrin: Bryce Dallas Howard replaced Kidman for Manderlay. Presumably, Howard herself will be replaced if the third installment ever gets out of Development Hell.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech
- The Smart Guy: Tom likes to see himself as such.
- Town with a Dark Secret: Grace is the dark secret.
- What an Idiot!: "None of us feel able to accept money for just helping people, l mean not unless it would make you feel better to divest yourself..."
- What the Hell, Townspeople?: Dogville is a character study about this trope. The character of a town.