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"Just" Business

by Brendan Yorke


While we hear the diegetic sounds of Georgetown’s promised safety, a medium shot shows Grace and Ben trapped by the boxes of apples. Ben lies at a three-quarter turn and does not meet Grace’s eyes as he talks about his fear of the police. His hidden face makes his shame clear, however, as he describes the economics of his decision, he speaks more comfortably and touches Grace in a more sexual manner. He justifies his claim using the economic situation, referring to Grace as “dangerous goods”. Von Trier places the camera at the same bird’s eye angle throughout the scene, showing Grace’s clear boundaries with the boxes of apples, and distantiating the audience from the scene. The apples are a commodity being taken to market, and their framing of the shot allows the audience to objectively connect the rape to economics. Ben repeatedly says that he does not have a choice and that he has to take due payment for the sake of the freight industry.

In this scene, Ben equates his sexual pleasure to money, even though it is “not worth as much as a surcharge for dangerous goods”. Grace says no to Ben but never blame her assailants. Throughout the film, she tells Tom that it is not their fault—that they have less ability to control themselves than Tom or herself. Grace had been sexually assaulted several times already in the film, and each time is less outwardly emotional. Grace buys into the notion that people are simply a product of their environment. She allows herself to become part of that depraved system, wherein people’s social interactions are merely transactions, demonstrating capitalism’s primary role in American life. This lies in distinct opposition to Grace’s idealized notion at the beginning of the film—a small-town American community that supports each other in tough situations.


Von Trier critiques the tendency for every interaction to be commodified in the capitalist mindset. In Dancer in the Dark, von Trier presents Selma’s freedom as simply a matter of paying the lawyer’s fee. Through the commodification of interactions, the townspeople are able to blame outside, uncontrollable forces, such as the economy for their immoral actions.



Willie Hartzell: Lars von Trier's critique of the contagiousness of economic rationalization

by William Hartzell

       This scene is used by von Trier to critique the contagious nature of economic rationalization and that it infects those who are powerless in a capitalist framework.  The entire scene is framed as a medium shot and filmed from a bird’s-eye view.  The use of such a high angle as a method to demonstrate the powerlessness of both Grace and Ben.  The two lie in an apple truck, framed by the crates of apples. The apples are a commodity and take up as much of the shot as Ben and Grace. Thus, Grace and Ben are being framed by an allusion to market forces.  Symbolically, some of the apples have spilled into the area where Grace and Ben are lying, alluding to a spillover of commodification into the personal realm. 

           Ben begins to open the top of Grace’s blouse.  Ben states that he intended to visit a prostitute, but instead levies“a surcharge for carrying dangerous goods” on Grace , effectively commodifying Grace.  As he begins to move closer to her, he states that what he is about to do is not personal, but he simply has to take due payment, a further example of the continued exploitation of Grace by the town.  Ben feels that he does not have a choice.  He states that he is not proud of what he is about to do and begins to rape her as fatalistic, extra-diegetic music fades in.  Her stoic face and lack of struggle suggest that Grace accepts her repeated role as the victim of economic rationalization. This theme of repeated and accepted victimhood is echoed throughout von Trier’s American trilogy by the character Wilhelm of Manderlay and Selma of Dancer in the Dark.

           I interpret this scene to be von Tresian commentary on the colonizing effects of capitalism and the powerlessness that it produces.  Ben, a trucker, owns little capital and benefits little from the captialistic framework of Dogville, yet frames his rape of Grace in purely economic terms, as levying a “surcharge for carrying dangerous goods.”  But, the contagiousness of economic rationalization, an aspect of capitalism von Trier critiques, has infected Ben, making him powerless.  Therefore, Grace seems to represent both Ben and Grace.  Grace is being subjected to power that she has no control over, but so is Ben.  In the act of raping a woman and framing it as economics, Ben is demonstrating how he has been symbolically stripped of his free will by the capitalist notion of how the world must operate.  Just as Grace is incapable of fighting off Ben, Ben, as he says to Grace, “can’t puck the freight industry.”  

In the U.S.A., Power is Money

by Michelle Robinson

This clip by will be used to explore Lars von Trier’s critique of social systems in the film Dogville (the first film in his U.S.A. “Trilogy”). Students will analyze von Trier’s use of small-town life as allegory and his representations of money and economic relations as factors that define communities and inform social hierarchies. Additional commentaries will be provided by students in the course “The Film Director as Public Intellectual” at UNC Chapel Hill (Spring 2012).

On the Apple Truck

In this clip from director Lars von Trier's Dogville, Ben (Zeljko Ivanek) assaults Grace (Nicole Kidman), arguing that she owes him payment.

from Dogville (2003)
Creator: Lars von Trier
Distributor: Lions Gate Home Entertainment
Posted by Michelle Robinson