Dogville is a 2003 minimalist drama film directed by Lars von Trier and starring, among others, Nicole Kidman, Paul Bettany, Harriet Andersson and Lauren Bacall. It's based on the poem "Jenny die Seeräuberbraut" ("Pirate Jenny" or "The Black Freighter") from Bertolt Brecht's The Threepenny Opera. It's also inspired, in part, by Friedrich Dürrenmatt's play The Visit. It is very, very hard to watch, and not for kids, despite getting a 12+ rating in some countries.
The story focuses around Grace, a woman running from The Mafia, who stumbles upon the tiny village of Dogville and is found by Thomas Edison, Junior (no relation). Grace and Tom convince the townsfolk of Dogville to let her stay in exchange for her performing odd jobs around town. As she finds jobs to perform for each resident, Grace soon gets to know all them, but her role as a subservient outsider gradually pushes her relationship with the town into dark territory.
The film is distinctive for being shot on a single sound stage, with the sets drawn on the floor and only a bare minimum of props visible. The minimalist aspects of the film, like the plot, are based on Bertolt Brecht's epic theatre: Brecht once said a play never needs to be more complicated than "a man on a street corner re-enacting an accident for a crowd". He also stated that an actor should always be presented as themselves playing a character instead of as a character, to prevent total immersion, and to encourage critical reception. It shows.
The film is the first installment of a planned (and currently unfinished) "Land of Opportunities" trilogy, all sharing the same visual style and plots highly critical of American culture. The second installment, Manderlay, takes place in the Deep South and comments on racism. It's based in part on Brecht's opera The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny and replaces Kidman with Bryce Dallas Howard as Grace. The third installment, Wasington [sic], has yet to emerge from Development Hell.
This film provides examples of:
- Aristocrats Are Evil: Or in this case, rich people are evil Averted with the townsfolk who manage to be evil while being miserably poor.
- Asshole Victim: The people of the town are all such massive pricks that you don't feel sympathy for any of them when Mafia Princess Grace orders the mobsters to kill them all.
- Badass Longcoat: The gangsters all wear one.
- Break the Cutie: Grace.
- Break the Haughty: Vera.
- Cassandra Truth: Chuck is never quite convinced Grace is what she seems she is. At the end he's right.
- City in a Bottle
- Confession Cam: Used by the director, so the actors could cope with the gruesome shooting. It's on the DVD extras.
- Crapsaccharine World
- Dirty Kid: Jason. He loves to sit on Grace's lap and also asks her to spank him for being bad.
- The Ditz: Ben Henson, no matter how much he studies, he continues to be as dumb as a doorknob.
- Elephant in the Living Room: Mr. McKay is blind, everyone knows he's blind, yet nobody dares to mention such a thing in front of him.
- Even Evil Has Standards: The Mafia, who are quite comfortable with murder and extortion, are horrified and outraged when they discover that Grace has been abused and chained to her bed. Of course, this is most likely because she was the daughter of their boss.
- Humans Are Bastards: Something of a common theme in Lars von Trier's work.
- Hypocrite: The townsfolk find it increasingly easy to rationalize and justify their increasingly exploitative and abusive treatment of Grace.
- In Which a Trope Is Described
- Interrogation by Vandalism: The townspeople torture Grace by smashing her porcelain figures.
- Ironic Echo: Grace tells the mobsters to kill a kid named Jason first, then tell his mother that if she can hold back her tears they won't kill the rest. This comes after the woman in question smashed the dolls that Grace had bought with money she got from helping the townspeople, telling her that if she could hold back her tears she wouldn't destroy the rest.
- Kick the Dog: Happens a LOT in this movie, and the movie showcases the dangers of Dog Kicking. Literally averted at the end, where Grace prevents the mafia from killing the dog.
- Kick the Son of a Bitch Grace's father thugs to kill everyone in Dogsville and burn it to the ground and they oblige because her father gave her free rein to give orders. It is most likely not their first time but this time almost everyone deserves it.
- Kill 'em All: Nicole Kidman's character takes the name of this trope literally and indeed sends her goons to kill the entire village, except the dog.
- Made a Slave: Implicit from the beginning, made real in Chapter 6.
- The Mafia: The people looking for Grace.
- Mafia Princess: Grace turns out to be one.
- Messianic Archetype: Grace throughout the whole play. She offers inspiration and kindness, asking only to be allowed to help others and live peacefully among them. Eventually, she suffers for the sins of others and even ends up lugging around a cross analog. In the end She's offered up as a sacrifice by the towns people and her father shows up to save her. Then it's all turned on its head when he talks her OUT of turning the other cheek any longer and she has the town wiped out for what they did to her.
- Minimalism: in order to focus more on the characters and their actions and avoid immersion in the story (related to Bertolt Brecht ideas about epic theater) the entire village of Dogville drawn with chalk in the floor in a sound stage. This is particularly dramatic when Grace is raped. The audience can see the crime taking place - and can also see the townspeople milling around obliviously while it occurs.
- Middle-of-Nowhere Street
- No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Grace does nothing but good deeds for the citizens, who in turn are Ungrateful Bastards who constantly expect more and later abuse and enslave her. Later deconstructed as it turns out Grace is a Mafia Princess and orders everyone in the town killed except for the one citizen who thought highly of her: Moses the dog.
- Painting the Medium: On many different levels. Including a textual example: when Grace quotes directly from "Pirate Jenny", she is genuinely shocked by what she says, and the narrator explains that Grace is wondering where such words would come from. Grace proceeds to accept her identity as a Jenny-character and act out the ending of "Pirate Jenny" almost to the letter.Tom: Although using people is not very charming, I think you have to agree that this - specific illustration has surpassed all expectations. It says so much about being human! It's been painful, but I think you'll also have to agree it's been edifying, wouldn't you say?
- Pay Evil unto Evil: Grace orders the deaths of all the townspeople and it's not hard to understand why she did it. Not just for revenge, not just because she decided that she cannot deny them responsibily anymore for what they did, but also to protect other people from falling prey to their cruelty and to make the world a better place.
- Pet the Dog: A quite literal example.
- Precious Puppy: Moses the dog, who is the only survivor of the massacre. It also helps he ran away when things went From Bad to Worse.
- Premise Ville: "Dogville," the setting of the film. The actual dog in Dogville is thematically important.
- Rape as Drama
- Resignations Not Accepted: Subverted. Although Grace is held captive and her attempts to leave just lead her right back to the village, it turns out to be the result of her own stubborn decisions.
- Shout-Out: Some lines in the film are directly lifted from "Pirate Jenny", most notably: "Nobody gonna sleep here...".
- So Beautiful, It's a Curse: Liz.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech Most notable is the Mafia Don's one to Grace, calling her arrogant for holding impossible high standards for herself; and forgiving everyone else for failing to meet them. She realizes he's right, and tells the Mob to Kill 'em All.
- The Smart Guy: Tom likes to see himself as such, though he isn't.
- Town with a Dark Secret: Grace is the dark secret.
- Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: Grace. Made all the more ambiguous by the discussion just before the ending, where it suddenly becomes very clear that she's only a child.
- Would Hurt a Child: Grace herself, while not obvious because she's played by Nicole Kidman is actually a teenager and therefore close to this, though not a true example. She fully embraces this when she orders the mafia to kill Jason and the other children to torture Vera. And it isn't as extreme as it sounds since as many have accurately pointed out, the kids were just as morally repulsive as the parents.