Dogville ★★★★★

Part lovely fable, part moral archaeology, part mirror, it delivers a scathing judgment on human nature, moral righteousness, greed and selfishness. And that isn't the half of it. An overt condemnation of consumerism, capitalism, and American imperialism, it lambasts every part of human nature exploited by capitalist societies.

It explores all of this in the form of a fable about Grace, a young woman of privilege who escapes to all-American small town Dogville, where the simple people living in hard times are romanticized to the point where Grace fails to see their human failings and forgives them anything because she owes them and because she is arrogant enough to believe that people living through hard times should be forgiven for having lower moral standards.

The fable holds a mirror to us if we want to see it. It shows what it looks like when generosity slowly turns into a chore, or when kindness depends on its being valued and repaid, or when helping someone turns into balance sheet. It shows what it looks like when we are called on our faults, not the ones we know we have, but those we swear we do not have, those truly base feelings that we have in the privacy of darkness if we aren't too afraid to look, those we cover up with charity and kindness and all those nice obvious things we can list and that we proudly think of as making us very moral, thank you very much.

And then there is the political angle, but it isn't much different. Politics is after all organized people trying to get along with other organized people. There is the generosity of a country towards another while holding the payback list in the back pocket (the venerable I'll scratch your back). The pat on the back for showing kindness and support while the other hand is sending out the post-dated invoice in the diplomatic pouch. The self-righteous indignation that comes after being called out for less than stellar behaviour.

It applies to all areas of human life and community because that's all we are.

Von Trier, I was surprised to find in the credits, wrote this. It wasn't based on a play, even though it is presented as one. I was surprised not only at discovering that he wrote it, but at discovering that he could write it. I caught of glimpse of what he could say in Breaking the Waves, and I caught a glimpse of what he was like in Melancholia, but here, with Dogville, I caught a glimpse of his ability to really grasp human nature. You have to know it inside out to reproduce it so well. I shall never underestimate the man again. He is a true adventurer and archaeologist of human nature, and I look forward to his next journey.

(And hugs and kisses to Len who recommended this a while ago and forced me to watch in immediately in Thomas Ringdal's The Merry Watchlist Go Round, so thanks to Thomas as well!)


Part of the Sunday Mornings with Coffee series.

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