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Selma's selfishness

by Meredith Burns

In this clip Selma’s friend Kathy brings Selma what is supposed to be good news about her legal case. Instead of being overjoyed at the possibility of avoiding the death sentence, however, Selma appears distraught. Selma tells Kathy to make sure her son does not hear about the truth because it will make him worry and may progress his eye disease. Selma makes it seem that she is accepting the death sentence as opposed to telling her son the truth in order to save him. These sacrifices are unnecessary, however, because it is reasonable to assume that her son would worry regardless since his mother is facing the death sentence and he may soon be an orphan.

Not only does the sacrifice of Selma’s life seem unnecessary, but is also appears to be derived from selfishness because she works so hard to keep the truth to herself. Selma is viewed through a glass partition and spoken to through a telephone in this clip. This physical isolation emphasizes the emotional seclusion and autonomy that led to her decision to keep the truth a secret from her son. In hiding the truth and accepting the death sentence, Selma can assume the role of a martyr instead of having to release any secrets. This is selfish however, because she would rather guard the power that accompanies the autonomous choice of keeping a secret than living for the sake of her son. For these reasons Selma’s sacrifice seems both unnecessary and selfish.
          Selma’s protects her misguided sacrifice with the defense that she is being a good mother by protecting her son. This makes selfish sacrificial actions seem to be an inherent part of being a mother, situating Selma’s actions and motivations as a universal theme in motherhood. This point is emphasized when Kathy, who is not a mother, does not understand Selma’s reaction to the news. Perhaps she cannot understand because she is not a mother and therefore cannot understand why Selma’s selfish actions that she hides under the ruse of selfishness. In doing this Lars von Trier seems to argue that mothers are not the selfless nurturers that society often assumes they are.

Selfish Sacrifice in Lars von Trier's Films

by Michelle Robinson

This clip by will be used to explore the recurrent theme of sacrifice and sacrificial actions in director Lars von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark, Dogville, and Manderlay, specifically in relation to von Trier’s representations of women. Additional commentaries will be provided by students in the course “The Film Director as Public Intellectual” at UNC Chapel Hill (Spring 2012)

Hidden Sacrifice

by Aaron Ernst

In this scene Selma is distraught by the news that Kathy has found a lawyer to save her from being hanged. The potential to have her life saved would seem to be very exciting news, but why is she in tears at the end of the scene? In order to save Selma’s life, the truth of her son’s impending blindness has to be brought out into the open, something she has been trying to avoid for her son’s whole life. She does not have control over much in her life, so this knowledge is Selma’s only source of power.  In all other areas her own blindness (both physical and emotional) has left her powerless to stop the forces at work around her.

Kathy cannot understand Selma’s desire to sacrifice herself. Likewise, Selma cannot understand why Kathy keeps pushing for her to use the money for a lawyer. This disparity and distance in viewpoint is shown with the camera movement. Neither character is shown directly, but viewed through the glass of the prison. There is a distance between their ideas and views that are irreconcilable, they are never pictured without the glass separation which represents their own barriers to one another. The colors are as bleak as the hopeless situation Selma is left in.
            Selma’s choice to keep information hidden and be hanged can be termed a ‘selfish sacrifice’ because her goal is not purely to save her son’s sight, but also to retain the power that the secret gives her. In that way, her sacrifice is not altruistic . She is giving away her life to retain something that she thinks is more important. That thing is dignity, but it is also the selfish desire to have her son’s life turn out as she has envisioned it, rather than how he may want it. She has taken the choice away from her son, and kept the dream for herself.  

Selma's Sacrifice

In this scene from director Lars von Trier's Dancer in the Dark, Selma (Bjork) argues with Kathy (Catherine Deneuve) about whether money Selma saved for her son's eye operation should be used to pay for a lawyer.

from Dancer in the Dark (2000)
Creator: Lars von Trier
Distributor: New Line Home Entertainment
Posted by Michelle Robinson
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