Skip to content. | Skip to navigation

Personal tools

Commentaries on this Media!

Dependency of capitalist workers through cost-benefit analysis

by William Hartzell

In this scene, Grace exhibits a dependency on Dogville that parallels the dependency which capitalist workers are forced into by owners of capital through the lens of cost-benefit analysis.  Tom is revealing to Grace that Dogville believes she should work more for less pay.  Grace agrees to this, showing her dependency on the town and lack of recourse.  Tom also says that members of the town would like to cut Grace’s pay, more as an economic “symbolic gesture,” showing that the town frames Grace’s stay in a form of cost-benefit analysis.   

The seemingly conversational manner in which the scene is shot, using fluid handheld camera shots, and the camera angles used to shoot Tom and Grace are ironic in that they belie the content of the scene.  Despite the fact that Tom is sitting and shot in a high angle compared to Grace sitting and shot in eye-line match, Tom possesses great power over Grace.  Tom is dictating a new work regiment decided by the town to Grace.  The new work regiment seem “peculiar” to Grace.  However, she has little choice, something Tom acknowledges when he informs Grace that she has an incentive to stay.

This scene aids Lars von Trier’s critique of the cycle of dependence created by capitalism.  The worker, represented by Grace, is cornered into accepting the conditions of economic deprivation instilled by the owners of capital, represented by Tom, due to their dependence on these capital owners.  That is, it is even less advantageous for the worker, for Grace, to break free from the owners of capital, from Tom, than to remain in a cycle of exploitation. Just as Grace cannot leave the town because of the ubiquity of wanted signs that bear her image, the capitalistic worker cannot leave his/her job without facing repercussions that will remove them from some bastion of society.  Grace cannot leave the town without being subjected to the gangsters’ will. Similarly, the powerless capitalistic worker cannot leave his/her job, or the capitalistic system as a whole, without losing the only power he/she has in a capitalistic society, the little money that they possess. This scene fits with von Trier’s commentary in the American Trilogy regarding the powerlessness of the American worker, further illustrated by the lack of autonomy of the workers in Manderlay.

The Community's Second Verdict

by Grace Joyal

The townspeople of Dogville have manipulated Grace since her arrival; because she is a fugitive, it’s easier for them to justify their motivations in making her work long hours for little pay. Grace plays the righteous victim—she always does the right thing in her interactions in Dogville- she doesn’t want to jeopardize these ‘good people’s’ consciences. In this instance, two forces are at play-- Grace, as a commodity to the town, and Tom, as the main manipulator in the town’s economic game with Grace.

Grace is no longer a human being to the people of Dogville. She’s simply a commodity— one that’s fallen right into their laps. They will use her at her best, until she withers away. Von Trier is making a statement about American values. Von Trier shows how money—how Dogville measures its increased fear and inconvenience— is seen as being the top-most priority for Dogville’s citizens. Von Trier portrays Dogville’s daily routine as trivial, and without much promise for financial growth in the future. Grace’s arrival isn’t a burden for them; it’s a chance for economic gain and an assertion of power and control. Grace’s influence on the town is a positive thing only so far as it produces economic benefits for the town. Grace is shot from straight-on in this sequence, showing her vulnerability. She’s just waiting to be crushed. She wants them to want her, to need her-- she can’t accept that these people just want to use her—for her work, for her body, for their own personal gain.

Tom is acting as the main manipulator in this situation, using Grace as a pawn at his will, as he has from when she first arrived. He bargains her time and efforts. He’s sexually attracted to Grace and fantasizes with the idea of something happening between them. To keep her there, he must convince her that her stake in Dogville is even greater now. Because Grace has become a more desired object by authorities, she should become even more of a subservient actor in the community. Grace is uncomfortable with Tom’s proposal at first—her initial reaction shows that she senses something manipulative in his words. Von Trier uses fluid, panning camera movement to show a sort of urgency and volatility to Grace and Tom’s exchange, or rather, Tom’s decree to Grace. Tom is shot from a profile, hinting that he can’t quite take responsibility for what he’s saying. Because he and the rest of Dogville has so little say in their economic mobility, they will do whatever they can to play Grace to their advantage.

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).

The Community's Second Verdict

In this scene from director Lars von Trier's Dogville, Thomas Edison (Paul Bettany) informs Grace (Nicole Kidman) that the community of Dogville feels her continued presence puts them at a disadvantage, at least from an economic standpoint.

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