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Chelsea Pro: The secret Grace

by Chelsea Pro

In this scene, Grace confronts her father, who tells her she is arrogant. Grace scoffs at this accusation, believing herself to be righteous and noble for how she befriends the small-town people of Dogville. What Grace doesn’t realize, though, is that her arrogance comes from her suppressed belief that she is better than all of these people. She explains to her father that they cannot help their behavior because it’s in their nature, but by conforming them to these standards, she belittles their capabilities. Grace makes sacrifices for these people because she believes that they cannot behave in any other way.

Grace’s arrogance is that she believes these people need to be forgiven because they cannot control their actions. Here, Grace’s sacrifice comes in the form of her blind forgiveness. If she weren’t so arrogant, she would see that the people of Dogville are mistreating her. She does nothing about their abuse of her because she believes they cannot help themselves. She sacrifices her happiness and her body simply so she does not sacrifice her position against her father. This sacrifice is selfish because Grace is using the people of Dogville as much as they are using her. She needs their shelter in order to escape her father.

It is interesting that this is one of the only scenes throughout the film that takes place in a physically enclosed space. Von Trier’s close-up shots add to the constricted feeling of the scene. We see another side of Grace here—the Grace from her father’s perspective. The physical barriers of the car create a metaphor for Grace’s hidden motivations for staying in Dogville and treating the people as if they were worth less than herself. She wants to keep these parts of herself secret from everyone, even herself.

Grace's arrogant attitude

by Suha Shim

In this scene, Grace goes to the store to see if they need help in exchange for offering her a place to stay while she is hiding from the mob. In this scene, von Trier presents Grace as a selfish, snobby girl who is sacrificing her time not out of genuineness, but as a duty. When the owner says “we don’t need any help either” to Grade, she responds "there is nothing I can do, because I have never worked a day in my life" in a nonchalant way while avoiding to make an eye contact. But Grace’s composure as well as her tone throughout the scene epitomizes the attitude of a stereotypical arrogant, rich girl. She speaks in an annoyed, condescending tone when conversing with the workers. For example, von Trier juxtaposes Grace saying “his plan for everybody to like me has run into few problems” with an annoyed look, then saying “I would really like to offer something in return” afterwards. 

The entire scene is shot as a medium close up, showing the character’s facial expressions. The dynamic changes of the expressions display the tension between Grace and the workers. Von Trier sets the tense mood by zooming in to a close up of Grace’s aggravated look, and then a pan shot of the workers, to set the mood. Grace’s tone doesn’t change until the owner allows her to mend the gooseberry bush. This reveals Grace’s selfishness and her childish attitude, because she is throwing an attitude until the owner gives her a job. The workers tolerate Grace’s tantrum except for Liz, who doesn’t hide her attitude towards Grace. Throughout the conversation, Liz rolls her eyes when she feels agitated by Grace.

The irony of this scene is that Grace ran away from home to escape the rich, violent life of a mobster’s daughter, and to stay with humble, regular people. But Grace speaks in a condescending tone when talking to the neighbors to set her superiority. These details portray that the sacrifice Grace wants to make is not for the town, but for her own selfish justification to repay her debt. This scene shows Grace’s true intention behind her sacrifice. But unlike the rest of von Trier’s films, Grace has a different approach in her sacrifice compared to other female characters like Selma. In Dancer in the Dark, Selma’s attitude towards her sacrifice was humble, not arrogant like Grace’s. Although Grace believes she is humble, her actions say otherwise.

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)

Grace wants to help

In this clip from director Lars von Trier's Dogville, Grace (Nicole Kidman) tries to solicit work from the townspeople of Dogville in repayment for their offering her refuge.

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