Movie of the Day – Dancer in the Dark
August 1, 2011 Leave a comment
This is a bit of an odd choice for today’s selection. The movie today is a weird, but strangely beautiful and moving film that incorporates drama and music. Dancer In The Dark is not only a catchy musical, but incredibly crushing drama from Lars von Trier. If you aren’t familiar with Trier and his works, suffice to say that there are very few happy endings in his movies. His work brings about such vitriol and praise from all critics, that you aren’t certain whether you should side one way or the other. Von Trier practically pushes his actors to the limit, wanting pure raw emotion from them and demands nothing less. Dancer in the Dark is this balance between melodrama and musical, as Icelandic singer Björk is the composer of the soundtrack and also giving her first real shot at being a lead actress. For me this is one of Von Trier’s best films in terms of the emotional upheaval that you go through when watching this movie. At times it is beautiful, other times it is utterly tragic and depressing.
Dancer in the Dark is about Selma Ježková (Björk), a Czech immigrant who has moved to the United States with her son, Gene Ježek (Kostic). The immigrated to the US where Selma lives in poverty, trying to support her son working at a factory and renting a trailer from the town policeman Bill Houston (David Morse) and his wife Linda (Cara Seymour). Selma is trying to save as much money as she can because she is hiding a secret that no one knows about, which is that she is slowly going blind because of a hereditary disease and the money is to save her sons eyesight. Selma’s closest friend Cvalda (Catherine Deneuve) helps her find escape from her life by taking her to the cinema for musical films. There Selma is able to escape into this musical world with elaborate dances and gorgeous singing. As her condition worsens, her landlords are also having problems and Jeff confides with Selma that he is losing money because of his wife. He asks Selma for help to pay some bills but Selma can’t knowing she needs the money to help her son. Selma tells Jeff her secret and Jeff uses that secret to steal her tin of money from her. Selma realizes her money is gone and confront Jeff about it and the two get into a struggle where Jeff is wounded. He begs Selma to kill him because his life has been reduced to this and Selma maims him because of her lack of sight. Selma is then tried for murder.
I don’t want to give away what happens to Selma in the end or how the story continues once the trial begins. I think that you can deduce that the story doesn’t end well. Von Trier caught a lot of flack and praise for this movie. Dancer in the Dark is a rough movie, with the handheld style shooting, more emotional display than acting and a storyline that takes you on ecstatic highs and crushing lows. The musical numbers interject the movie with life and happiness, elaborate dances and beautiful vocal work from Björk brings a unique touch to Von Trier’s usual gloom. But once the music fades, the reality of the situation sets in. Selma is going to lose her sight and there isn’t anything she can do about it. She only wants her son to be able to see, so she is beset by all the problems of Jeff, Linda, her finances and life have thrown at her. The ending of the movie, the last 10 minutes anyways, is absolutely devastating to watch. The final song of the film encapsulates the film and it gives you one take away from the movie which is sorrowful as it is uplifting.
I know that this isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea. Heck Lars von Trier movies are some of the toughest films to sit through given their subject matter and the endings that he comes up with. If you have never seen a von Trier film, they are a chore to sit through. Not because of the length or style that he shots his movies, but just seeing characters being put through such tragic stories and emotional scenes is tasking. I watched Dancer in the Dark and just went through this gamut of emotions until the final end of the movie. The movie is whimsical and beautiful. Björk is mesmerizing in this movie and the musical numbers within the movie are as vibrant as her music videos. I have been a huge fan of her work and I guess that is why I ended up watching this movie. It is tragic to see how her character ends up in the movie, only wanting to do right in her life, but just keeps getting knocked back down.
If you decide to watch the movie, keep an open mind about what you are seeing. Most people are quick to dismiss this movie saying the emotion wreck that he puts the characters through, forces us to sympathize with them, but ultimately will push us away from them once we continuously see what they go through in the movie. It will require you to invest some emotions and time into the movie, but it is both a troubling and stunning film. It finds a way to weave in the musical aspects of the movie with the stark, gloom of the story. In one scene, Selma says that “In a musical, nothing dreadful ever happens,” and in reality she says that to get away from what is happening to her real life. The only escape and happiness she will find is in music.