Lars von Trier’s films have always had a polarizing effect, and I’ll acknowledge that, after having seen several of his major works (Zentropa, Element of Crime, Kingdom, Breaking the Waves, and Dancer in the Dark), I’ve always been in the detractors’ camp. The consummate provocateur’s latest film, Dogville, is no exception: an over-the-top, emotionally manipulative tragedy (with the requisite dose of nausea-inducing, rapid camera movement) where, once again, the virtuous, idealistic, and naïve heroine, a seemingly privileged stranger named Grace (Nicole Kidman), is put through a series of ever-dehumanizing emotional wringers until the physical body – if not the soul – is broken. Stylistically presented through minimalist theatrical staging reminiscent of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, the film subverts the iconic Americana play to consequently demystify the somewhat idealized view of American culture and expose the baseness of human behavior. However, von Trier’s penchant for subjecting protagonists to ridiculously excessive and impossibly compounding misfortunes has a cumulative effect of desensitizing the viewer to the film’s thematic reality by smothering the underlying truth in the film’s unnecessarily overconcocted situational absurdity. What results is a film that is utterly cynical, nihilistic, unredemptive, and simply unpleasant.
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