Grade B+

Writer/Director Lars von Trier gives us a three hour movie on human nature, the message being that people are the same everywhere, and most are inherently malevolent.  Nicole Kidman plays a woman on the run from gangsters in the early 1900s.  She finds a small town called Dogville (population: less than two dozen), is taken in by one of the townsfolk (played by Paul Bettany), and eventually befriends everyone in Dogville.  The town agrees to let Kidman stay despite the possible danger to themselves by hiding someone wanted by dangerous men, and the reward promised to anyone who would turn her in.

For several weeks, all is fine.  Kidman is enamored by the quiet, little town and the simple folks that live in it.  Dogville, for the most part, is enchanted by the beautiful, mysterious stranger.  But as time passes on, Dogville receives frequent visits from the law.  Kidman goes from a “missing person” to “wanted” for bank robbery.  Although Dogville knows the charges are false, Dogville understands Kidman’s precarious situation.  Little by little, the town turns on Kidman.  At first she is made to work longer hours for her keep and her wages cut…eventually, there would be no wages.  And the men…almost all take advantage of her in heinous ways.

Kidman, so fearful of being caught by the police or the gangsters, endures the escalating onslaughts of Dogville, believing that she still has a true friend in Bettany who will help her escape.  But even Bettany betrays Kidman.  And then comes the bloody, vicious reckoning.

“Dogville” is an unconventional movie in that it is set up like a stage play.  The houses are basically outlines of chalk to mark their territory, with some pieces of furniture inside; some have one wall, others just have a door.  The entire movie is set in this tiny town that is about fifty feet by two hundred feet.  It starts off very slow and uninteresting, and takes its time telling the story; but after an hour — I realize many would have turned off the movie before this point, and I was tempted to do so — I was hooked.  I felt the tension slowly build, and it never dropped, it just kept rising slowly.  My anger against the people of Dogville was such that I could taste it, and I was desperate to see Kidman escape Dogville, the police, and the gangsters.  This is good storytelling.  “Good,” you say?  Why not “great?”  Well, there is this one big shenanigan.

That shenanigan being **SPOILER ALERT** Kidman had much less to fear from the gansgters than from Dogville; and therefore, why would she stay with the greater of two evils?  Trier’s explanation for Kidman’s unwise choice doesn’t make sense and certainly doesn’t ring true with me.  But for this shenanigan, I would have given “Dogville” a grade A+.

And now, for my most memorable, movie moment of “Dogville”: in the final Chapter, the relationship Kidman has to the gangsters is revealed, and oh, you just knew what was going to happen next.

Runner-up for my memorable moments of this movie is the scene when the little, bratty boy is angry at Kidman for not letting him sit on her lap during class.  He then asks to be punished by getting spanked.  Not believing in hitting children, Kidman refuses, and the boy threatens to tell his parents that Kidman hit him unless she agrees to spank him.  The little, masochistic monster!

— M

 

 

 

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