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Unethical Mercy

by Brendan Yorke

As the sequence opens, the omniscient third person narrator notes the difference in the diegetic dog’s howl from Grace’s introduction to Dogville. The handheld longshot which focuses on the gangsters car adds to von Trier’s “raw” style thereby enhancing audience distantiation. A medium shot of Grace relaxing in her father’s arms contrasts with their previous argument and reminds us that she has supposedly accepted her father’s Universalist approach by decimating the town. However when Grace hears the desperate cries of one of Dogville’s inhabitants’, Moses, she jumps out of the car. As Grace runs, the omniscient third-person narrator apathetically describes the complete destruction of Dogville. The handheld camera following a concerned Grace and an extreme long-shot showing Dogville’s corpses are continuity cuts. This juxtaposition of apathetic destruction and emotional rescue accentuates the contrast between Grace’s harsh actions towards the townspeople and her subsequent mercy towards Moses.

 

A close shot captures Grace’s face as she allows Moses to live, justifying this action by saying, “he’s just angry because I once took his bone”. This is the same Relativistic attitude she used earlier when she forgave the townspeople, because she felt they were doing the best they could, given their situation. Unlike the majority of the film, Grace is now in a position of power, which shows that Relativistic attitudes can be enacted from a position of power or weakness. Because of her exception of Moses, Grace rejects the notion that a single judgment can be used carte blanche for everyone. This shows that she does not adopt the Universalist completely, therefore we are left with the question of whether the burning of the town was a just “cleansing fire”, or simply a visceral act of revenge.  

 

Von Trier uses Grace’s forgiveness to accentuate America’s veiled Relativistic approach. The desperate economic state of the township was enough for Grace to forgive her rape and enslavement. The townspeople seem to interact with each other transactionally -- which is seen as fair. The American capitalist economy is supposedly based on equal opportunity to succeed through material growth, but all exploit Grace, who is seen as a mere commodity. Von Trier critiques the apparently equal playing field by showing how Grace oscillates between Relativistic and Universalistic thought. Because Grace and the town are both exposed as Relativistic (though outwardly Universalistic), von Trier shows that he is criticizing the system rather than the actors within the system. Through this sequence, von Trier asserts that a capitalist economy cannot be used to justify actions, rather we must assert a middle ground between Universalism and Relativism. In von Trier’s next film in the U.S.A. series, Manderlay, we see that Grace does not find this balance as she fails to adapt Universalist notions to different circumstances with the slaves there.

Justified Behavior

by Kayla Reback

Grace has just called in her father and his resources to destroy the town of Dogville and its people. Grace’s father is an example of how money is so closely related to power: he has the ability to wipe out an entire town in an instant. Grace feels content with her decision to demolish Dogville and its people, justifying her decision to do so with the concept that it is not acceptable for insiders to manipulate an outsider. Von Trier shows the desolate town of Dogville and the camera zooms out, showing the town as a uninhabited place,  before zooming back in on the town cars that belong to Grace’s father.

Right before driving off, Grace hears the town dog, Moses, barking and runs back to see him. Grace saves the dog, saying that he did not know better and believes that he deserves another chance. There are many parallels between Grace and Moses, more than just that Grace was treated like an animal. Grace was completely abused and manipulated by the people of Dogville. She had been robbed of her dignity and all of her valuables. Grace says at the end, “[Moses] was just angry because someone took his bone”. Because the people of Dogville had mistreated Moses by taking what little he possessed, Grace believes he is justified in his anger. This parallels with the figurines that Vera took and destroyed of Grace’s [See “Figurines Smashed”]. Grace is implying that her actions of killing the town are justified because Dogville took the only thing that was important to her. The narrator describes Moses’ survival as astonishing and a miracle. I think this can also be paralleled to Grace, who survived for such a long time in this town that completely abused her in so many ways. Grace gives Moses another chance because she, in return, wants another chance at a better and happier life, which can happen because of her father’s money and power.

Grace had attempted to escape Dogville with her own resources. However, it is when her father comes in with his wealth that she is able to finally leave the town, demonstrating again how money is power and has the potential to solve problems. With her father back in the picture, Grace has the power to decide the fate of Moses, whom she chooses to pardon. Von Trier displays that capitalism leads to a lack of power by the workers in a capitalist society and how it is the few on top that really have the true ability to alter situations. The scene ends with a birds eye view of Dogville, showing the town cars driving away, taking Grace with them, as she gets a new chance.

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 Underdog

In this scene from director Lars von Trier's Dogville, Grace (Nicole Kidman) decides to spare a dog after choosing to annihilate the entire community of Dogville.

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