To gain acceptance from the 15 underprivileged citizens of
Dogville, Grace spent her first two weeks busily applying her
obviously privileged hand to all the town’s menial jobs.
Her work ethic persuaded the townspeople to allow her to stay.
Grace spent the next year doing the jobs no one else wanted
to do. She changed the bed sheets of a mentally retarded girl
who managed to soil them every night. She tended the gooseberry
bushes and picked apples in the hot sun. She even taught the
local children in the Hansen’s residence.
The citizens soon learn mobsters are on the hunt for Grace,
and this is why she had sought refuge in their backwater
town. Grace worked even harder in order to keep the fickle
of Dogville from turning her over to the mobsters.
Grace’s obliging nature soon made her susceptible to
abuse. The townspeople took advantage of her by making her
do most, if not all, the chores of the town so that everyone
else could live a life of leisure. All the men of the town,
except Tom, raped her and threatened to turn her over to the
mob. Grace was in Hell.
Director Lars Van Trier brings this story to life in the most
remarkable way. The movie is filmed entirely on one set, reminiscent
of early American stage productions. The town of Dogville is
depicted using lines and boxes on the stage to symbolize streets
and houses. While this minimalist technique is awkward at first,
it grows on the audience within the first 10 minutes of the
film. Imagine watching a movie filmed entirely on an oversized
The gooseberry bushes are symbolized by cloud like drawings,
and the local hound, Moses, is simply a line depiction on the
ground. As bizarre as the concept seems, the audience is barely
even affected by such minimalism. The story is so vivid and
real that even the lines symbolizing a dog seem to be alive.
Van Trier relies on sound and lighting to make his almost nonexistent
set come alive, and successfully so.
The story of Dogville is depicted in “nine chapters and
a prologue,” as the Narrator described it. The nine chapters
go on for three straight hours of film, each chapter with titles
such as, “Tom leaves, only to return.” Like most
lengthy movies, Dogville succumbs to the disease of sluggishness,
but it is not consumed by it. Instead Van Trier artfully keeps
the story alive and well. Very few people even peel themselves
out of their seat for a bathroom break.
Kidman is certainly the best actor in the movie. All the players,
an international cast, are skillful and are able to compensate
for the lack of set. However, one gets the feeling that Kidman
is a sunflower in a field of weeds.
Dogville was critically acclaimed at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival
and was hailed as being one of the great film experiences.
Unfortunately it left the festival without an award, despite
it being called a masterpiece. Some have claimed this UK/Denmark-made
film reeks of anti-Americanism; others argue the film is simply
a realistic depiction of Depression-era life.
The movie’s dramatic conclusion sent shock waves through
the audience. Grace’s one and only confidante, Tom, soon
turns on her as well. He phones the mobsters who have been
diligently searching for her, and they turn up in the town
within a matter of days to claim Grace for their own.
The story takes a twist when the audience learns that the mob
leader is none other than Grace’s father. Grace is left
to choose between his oppression and the oppression of the
townspeople. She tells the mobsters to “Kill them all.”