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Figurines Smashed

by Grace Joyal

This is a breaking point between Grace and the community—the physical record of her time with the town is destroyed mercilessly. When Vera discovers that Grace has slept with her husband, she uses the power she holds over Grace, as a member of the community that is so kindly letting Grace stay in secret, to punish her in the most personally painful way possible.

The figurines are silly creations; easily broken and forgotten, except to Grace. She has sacrificed her entire self to this town so that she doesn’t have to return to her father hands. She has invested herself in the figurines. Grace has spent the small amount of money she’s earned working in Dogville to purchase them, one-by-one from the shop window, and one-by-one, Vera smashes them.

As Vera begins to violently shatter the dolls, von Trier places Vera in the foreground, right corner of the frame, with Grace being held by two women in the left background. Vera faces the camera, a figurine in her hand, as Grace appears to gaze just behind Vera, her head tilted down in profile. Vera knows that these figurines are the one thing that has given Grace autonomy. The light hits the tops of the four women’s heads, casting most of their facial features in silhouette and the face of the first figurine to be smashed, showing that Grace does not know what these women she thought she knew are capable of. Von Trier’s use of lighting in this sequence highlights the fact that in the night, these women are capable of anything. The night is symbolic of unguarded behavior. The women are ruthless when drawing the separation between themselves and the outsider (Grace). Von Trier’s choppy, pointed editing only adds to the harshness of Vera as she slams the figurines to the floor and cuts back to Grace’s face, whose hair is stuck to her face, covered in tears.

As the third-person narrator says, the figurines were “the proof that her suffering had created something of value.” It’s ironic that in this most inhumane moment, Grace becomes most human, crying for the first time since she was a girl and showing her emotions openly. As disturbingly horrible as this moment is, it’s worth noting that Grace is fully giving herself up by shedding tears while her self-worth is crushed. As evidenced by this scene, her self-worth has been whittled down to an investment in material goods. Von Trier is making a statement about what Grace finds value in. It’s this materialism that’s fundamentally wrong with Dogville, and it’s why no matter what Grace does, she’ll never find a place in Dogville.

Possessions as Power

by Kayla Reback

Vera is threatening Grace to destroy these little figurines, Grace’s only real possession in Dogville that she worked very hard to buy and collect. However, these figurines were more than just mere possessions to Grace. These figurines were representative of all of her net worth in Dogville. They gave a value to all the suffering she endured for the townspeople in Dogville. Von Trier shows Grace associating her own personal self worth with these figurines, indicating how he views capitalism. This effectively illustrates how this small town of Dogville is so accepting of such capitalistic ideals in which Grace buys into. Besides just being her net worth, it is her capital as well. She has nothing else to show for herself and her hard work other than these figurines.

However, despite just being capital, these figurines hold a sentimental place in Grace’s heart; later on, she even equates these figurines to Vera’s own children, which indicates just how much they mean to her. The figurines, acting as a monetary value, give Grace the power to be strong. They are what kept her going and made enduring the suffering worth it. She continued to be treated unfairly and unequally knowing she would eventually be able to accumulate the entire collection of figurines.

Towards the end, Vera gives Grace the opportunity to save some of them by holding back emotions of sadness and despair as Vera smashes the first two figurines. Von Trier sets this interaction up with a hand held camera, consistently focusing in on both Vera and Grace in close up and extreme close up shots, setting up a distinct confrontation between the two. Unfortunately for Grace, she is unable to hold back these tears and weeps in a way that she has not experienced since childhood, which von Trier captures by zooming in closely on Grace’s face as her emotional breakdown ensues. Grace’s tears, and the subsequent destruction of the rest of the figurines by Vera, indicate how Grace’s personal power and inner strength will be lost, no longer having anything to keep her going in Dogville. This represents how a lower status worker can be so easily taken advantage of and left powerless in a capitalist society. Grace has to simply accept what is given to her because of her lack of capital, demonstrating von Trier’s stance of small town America.  

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).

Figurines Smashed

In this clip from director Lars von Trier's Dogville, Vera (Patricia Clarkson) retaliates against Grace (Nicole Kidman) by destroying a set of prized figurines that Grace purchased with the money she earned in Dogville.

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