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Film: Dancer in the Dark

Dancer in the Dark is a 2000 musical drama directed by Larsvon Trier, and starring, of all people, Icelandic singing sensation Bj÷rk.

Bj÷rk plays Selma Je×kovß, a Czech immigrant to the U.S. State of Washington in The Sixties. She lives with her son, Gene Je×ek (Vladica Kostic) in a trailer home owned by town policeman Bill Houston (David Morse) and his wife Linda Houston (Cara Seymour), and works at a factory. Selma loves Hollywood musicals, and sees them at the cinema with her friend, Kathy (Catherine Deneuve). She is auditioning for the part of Maria in an adaptation (because there is no such word as "adaption") of The Sound of Music, and throughout the film, she slips into daydreams in which she imagines herself and others around her spontaneously enacting musical numbers. Co-worker Jeff (Peter Stormare) pursues her romantically, to no avail.

Unbeknownst to everyone, Selma is gradually going blind from a hereditary disease, and Gene will eventually suffer the same fate unless she secures an operation for him, hence why she moved to the US. All the money she has been making at the factory is saved as a fund for the operation. When Bill steals said fund so as to hide the fact that he is broke from his wife one day, things do not end well...

Did we mention it's a Musical?


Provides Examples Of:

  • Adam Smith Hates Your Guts: The lawyer presents Selma with a Morton's Fork: He has proof that she's innocent, but he'll only take the case if she pays him the money that Bill stole.
    • Something of a Take That against capitalism (lampshaded by the prosecutor).
  • Art Shift: see Camera Tricks.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Selma is executed for murdering Bill, but just before she's hanged, she learns that the operation for Gene which she spent the money that had been raised for a lawyer who could avert the sentence was succesful.
  • Break the Cutie
  • California Doubling: Set in Washington State, but most of the filming was done in Europe.
  • Camera Tricks: Alternates between Dogme95 using blurry handheld cameras to make you feel like you, too are going blind, and 100 stationary cameras simultaneously shooting an uninterrupted Long Take in Technicolor, with singing and dancing (for the scenes in Selma's head).
  • Crowd Song
  • Dogme 95: Like Breaking The Waves, it's often mistaken for this, though it does adhere to some Dogme rules while ignoring others.
  • Doing It for the Art: It's a Lars von Trier film, so...
  • Dogged Nice Guy: Jeff.
  • Downer Ending: And how.
  • Hat Box Full Of Money
  • Genre Deconstruction: A very acidic one, of the "integrated" musical that had characters break out into song in ways that were "integrated" into the narrative as plot points, usually in a manner that resolved the immediate conflict. Here, the songs are all in Selma's head, and as such they do NOT resolve things. It's brought to the point of (dark) parody when, right after killing Bill, her musical number has him getting up and joining in! One gets the feeling von Trier's implying that Selma's love of musicals has stuck her head in the clouds, reassuring herself that "everything will work out" (like in a musical).
  • The Hero Dies: Selma herself at the end.
  • I Gave My Word: Selma's reason for not Just Eating Gilligan (see below).
  • Killed Mid-Sentence: Selma herself, or mid-song, as it were.
  • Just Eat Gilligan: If Selma had just revealed Bill's secret (and therefore tell why she had to kill him), she could've been proven innocent.
  • Just Train Wrong: This locomotive appears in a scene in the movie. The Great Northern never used NOHAB engines, which were built for the European market, but the film-makers thought it was the closest they could get to an American-style diesel.
  • Long Take: all the Musical numbers are shot as a continuous Long Take using up to 100 stationary cameras in Technicolor, then cuts between all the footage generated. The rest of the movie is filmed with blurry handheld cameras in the style of Dogme 95, to show how the protagonist is going blind and the musical numbers are what she sees in her head. The result is fascinating because you can tell all the footage of singing dancing was taken from multiple odd angles of one single take. (under a desk, atop a railway car, etc.)
  • Low Self Esteem: Selma (and how)
  • Lyrical Dissonance: Come on, Selma! Just 100 steps!
    Wife: You have to hurry up / I called the police! / They're just down the road
    Selma: (cheerfully) They've come for me! / Why should I run...
    Wife: They'll take your money! / Run for your boy
    Selma: (cheerfully) Silly selma / you're the one to blame.
    Smith & Wesson
  • Man Child: Selma (some critics have speculated that she or Jeff may have a slight mental handicap)
  • Meaningful Echo / Motif: Whenever Selma becomes frightened or frustrated, incidental sounds (pencils scratching, machines grinding) repeat in her head, and she makes a song out of that. Subverted when she is placed in a noiseless isolation cell.
  • Meaningful Name: Possibly Gene. The fact that he has his mother's genes and therefore his mother's sickness is vital to the plot and Selma's motivations.
  • Melodrama: Deliberately invoked.
  • Mood Whiplash: All the musical numbers. Some of them hard cut to something terrible happening to Selma while she was daydreaming the music.
  • Musical: The best musical about an innocent, impoverished woman slowly succumbing to illness and despair since Rent or Les MisÚrables! And it's shot with handheld realism.
  • Musical World Hypothesis: played with.
  • Notable Original Music
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: English actress Cara Seymour's North American English starts sounding suspiciously Scots-Irish when she gets impassioned in one scene. Possibly averted however by Swedish actor Peter Stormare who, while playing the implicitly American Jeff, doesn't bother speaking with anything but a Swedish accent.
  • Serendipitous Symphony
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog
  • Soap Opera Disease: It is never identified exactly what it is that Selma and Gene have.
  • Thematic Series: Part of the Golden Hearts Trilogy along with Breaking The Waves and The Idiots which are not linked by narrative but by themes.
  • The Musical: As mentioned above.

Allegro Non TroppoMadmanEntertainment/Directors SuiteDouble Indemnity
Les Miserables (2012)Oancitizen ListBeauty and the Beast
Damn YankeesThe MusicalDarling Lili
Cry Baby LaneFilms of 2000 - 2004 Dinosaur

alternative title(s): Dancer In The Dark
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