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Selfish Choices

by Aaron Ernst

This scene shows how Selma’s life since having her son has been directed at trying to undo the wrong she has done him. Selma had a child despite the knowledge that she would pass on her genetic blindness. This is an act of absolute selfishness because she takes an action that will detrimentally effect someone for her own gain. In this case the gain is more nuanced, since it is rare that having a child is portrayed as a selfish act, but in Selma’s case having a child was a selfish act.
            The filming style of this scene shows how closely held her secret is. Most of the film is shot at a medium range with open backgrounds, but this scene is shot with plenty of close-ups and in intimate lighting. The viewer is drawn into Selma’s personal space, where the secret can be told. It is hard for her to admit her selfishness, or how her life has been spent working off the debt of her choice to have a child. However, in her personal space she can begin to admit these things. Von Trier has also created this intimate space for Bill to give away his secret.
            Her life’s sacrifice is an attempt to right her selfishness. She lives in poverty, works long hours, and puts away any extra money to pay for an operation to save her son’s sight. Her original selfishness has led her to great sacrifice. At first, that sacrifice is moving to America and saving enough money for the operation, but eventually the sacrifice is her own life to save her son’s sight.  She is given the choice between using the operation money to get a lawyer and save her own life, or keep it hidden for the operation. In this way, her life is the payment for his sight.

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)

Is Selma's selfishness an inherent part of a motherly nature?

by Suha Shim

In this scene, Selma makes a confession to Bill about her secret of being blind that she kept from everybody. We see that the conversation is intimate because the entire scene is a personal shot between Selma and Bill, and neither character acknowledges the audience. At the end of the clip, Selma says her son’s disease is her fault because she knew he would have gone blind like her. This confession reveals her selfish and yet innate motherly nature of women. Selma knew that Gene was going to go blind without a choice, but Selma still had him regardless. Von Trier uses Selma’s confession to present his take on whether selfishness is an inherent part of a motherly nature. Selma made the choice of having her son knowing the hardship that she and her son would have to face. She knew her son would grow in an uncomfortable environment without a father, money, or a house. But the biggest factor of this selfishness comes from her absence in her son’s life because she spends the majority of her time working to save up money for her son’s operation.

Despite knowing these conditions, Selma still chose to have her son because she believed she would live up to her standards as a mother to nurture and protect him. In this scene, von Trier scrutinizes the internal conflict Selma experiences as she reflects back upon her choice of having Gene, and the fulfillment in her duty as his mother. In her conversation with Bill, von Trier zooms into Selma’s face to expose her emotion, and closes up on her face from an upper angle to show her vulnerable state. In this state, Selma is unable to make eye contact with Bill, and when she does, she gives him a fake smile that disguises the turmoil going on inside of her. With the lack of background music, we can hear Selma hesitating as she speaks, exposing sincerity and truth her confession. And from the soft, tremble in her voice, we could sense Selma questioning herself if she had made the right choice of having her son.

From observing Selma in her vulnerable state, we think about von Trier’s question of Selma’s selfishness being an inherent part of her motherly nature. von Trier addresses this idea not only in Dancer in the Dark, but also in his other films as well. Many female characters in his films make certain decisions because of their motherly nature, like in Manderlay, where Grace feels like she needs to protect the slaves. This scene makes us question if Lars von Trier wants to assert that selfishness lies within the nature of a mother, or if his film implies that characters make selfish decisions because they think it is necessary as a motherly figure. 

Selma's Secret

In this clip from director Lars von Trier's Dancer in the Dark, Selma (Bjork) confesses to her landlord Bill (David Morse) that she has a degenerative eye disease; her son will also suffer from this disease (which is a genetic condition) unless she secures money for an operation.

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