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Film / Dogville

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There's nothing beyond there.

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, and most likely won't see the light of the day.

This film provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Downplayed Trope, given how little we see of their dynamic onscreen. That said, Grace's father's first reaction to her running away was to shoot at her, something Grace has said he has done before. She even thinks he's going to kill her when he pulls up, which she calmly appears to accept, only for him to say he wants to finish the conversation they had that caused her to flee in the first place.
  • All Men Are Perverts: Almost every man in Dogville tries to extort sexual favors from Grace.
  • 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: Grace orders her father's thugs to kill everyone in Dogville and burn it to the ground, and they oblige because her father gave her free rein to give orders. It is most certainly not their first time, but the people of the town are all such massive pricks that you don't feel sympathy for any of them when Grace orders the mobsters to kill them all.
  • Bad People Abuse Animals: Averted; at the end of the massacre, Grace decides to spare the town dog.
  • Badass Longcoat: The gangsters all wear one.
  • Betrayal by Inaction: Tom eventually becomes aware of Grace's mistreatment, such as her being raped on a nightly basis by the other male residents of Dogville, but does nothing to stop it. Despite this, Grace continues to believe in and trust him up until he outright abandons her completely. Grace makes his execution personal by shooting him with her own gun.
  • Blaming the Victim: Vera blames and abuses Grace after finding out what happened between her and Chuck, as she believes Grace made advances toward him. Even when the news comes out that Chuck was the one who forced himself on Grace, she still blames Grace and only becomes more vicious toward her.
  • Break the Cutie: Grace. By Chapter 5, the town begins to put her through the wringer and it only gets worse with every chapter. She's emotionally abused and raped repeatedly, effectively held hostage to the point of being chained down so that she cannot make anymore escape attempts, and the only man she believed she could trust turned against her to stand with her tormentors. It's not surprising what she ends up doing to them all in the end.
  • Break the Haughty: Vera.
  • Broken Pedestal: Any affection Grace had for Tom is completely gone by the end of the movie after she accepts that he allowed things to happen to her. It's because of this that she executes Tom herself.
  • Cassandra Truth: Chuck is never quite convinced Grace is what she seems she is. At the end he's right.
  • City in a Bottle
  • Condescending Compassion: At the end of the film, Grace's father confronts her, claiming that she exonerates others and does not hold them accountable for their misdeeds because she does not believe they can achieve the same high ethical standards as she can.
  • Confession Cam: Used by the director, so the actors could cope with the gruesome shooting. It's on the DVD extras.
  • Conflicting Loyalty: How Tom feels about having to choose between protecting Grace and siding with the people of Dogville. He's initially starkly in favor of protecting Grace, though it's implied early on that he's flaky. While he initially wanted to bring Chuck to justice after finding out that he forced himself on Grace, when the men of the town raping Grace becomes a regular occurrence, he does nothing about it, only taking it personally as if his own ego had been bruised. In another instance, when it comes out that he had stolen money from his father's medicine cabinet to help Grace escape, he pins the on Grace and claims that he only did so so that he can continue helping her, even though her taking the blame only made her situation far, far worse. In the end, he fully pushes in the direction of being on Dogville's side, forsaking Grace entirely and calling in the mobsters to collect her, not realizing that she's a Mafia Princess and that they're very protective of her. This ends up being his undoing in the end, and Grace makes sure to make his execution personal.
  • Crapsaccharine World: While everyone is miserably poor, Dogville, at least on the surface, appears to be a nice community with kind people that labor together to make ends meet. Though over the course of the movie, their true colors begin to come out.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Despite knowing nothing of what happened to her in Dogville, the conversation Grace's father wanted to finish with her that prompted her to escape into Dogville in the first place just happened to be the wake-up call she needed to decide to seek vengeance on the town's residents for their transgressions against her. It's justified in this instance given that the entire movie is a metaphor.
  • Deadpan Snarker: The narrator most of the time does some very cold remarks while narrating each chapter. Unlike many other examples, this sounds very humorously dark with very little, if any, fun in it.
  • Death of a Child: Jason and all the other kids in town are killed alongside the adults in the ending massacre. Even the baby is implicitly shot.
  • The Dog Bites Back: Boy, does she. Grace has everyone in Dogville executed save for the town dog, Moses.
  • Dogged Nice Guy: Tom to Grace, as he's the only one who is consistently kind to Grace and hopes she feels the same way about him as he does her. And she does, initially until it's revealed that he's only reluctantly helping her for himself. In the end, he turns on her to side with Dogville, her tormentors.
  • 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, 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.
  • Face–Heel Turn: Any sort of goodwill the town had toward Grace is gone completely when the sheriff makes his second visit, putting up a "Wanted" poster that accuses Grace of being involved in a robbery. It's then the town begins to show its true colors toward her.
  • Hate Sink: The whole townsfolk population. Seriously, no one is even a bit likable, not even Tom when he allows Dogville to continue to abuse Grace. In the end, he abandons her completely.
  • 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 because of her supposedly being connected to a robbery.
    • Chuck foreshadows the evils of the people of Dogville long before their true colors begin to show through. He also ends up taking advantage of her when Grace expresses that she just sees him as a good friend, initiating the practice of the townspeople sexually assaulting her on a near nightly basis and making it clear that he’s no better than the people he despises.
    • The Mafia Don calls Grace one as part of "The Reason You Suck" Speech he gives her. He argues that refusing to condemn others for behaving like monsters while holding herself to impossibly high moral standards, is not magnanimous, it's condescending and shows she thinks of herself as better than everyone else.
  • 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.
  • It's All About Me: It takes a while for Grace to realize, but Tom's more concerned about his philosophical "illustration" than he is about her. He even expects Grace, who had by that point been put through the wringer and raped repeatedly, to comfort him sexually for all he's had to do for her.
  • It's Personal: While Grace leaves the majority of the Dogville massacre to her father's goons, she takes care of Tom herself due to how he betrayed her.
  • Jerk With A Heart Of Jerk: While it seemed initially that the people of Dogville weren't all bad despite their initial somewhat reasonable mistrust of Grace, a newcomer with an implied criminal background, they turn out to be just as rotten as Chuck said by Chapter 6, in which they all begin to turn on, and mistreat her for different reasons.
  • 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.
  • Kids Are Cruel: The town children humiliate Grace by making a habit out of ringing the bells every time she's raped following in their parents' footsteps.
  • 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.
  • Middle-of-Nowhere Street
  • Minimalism: In order to focus more on the characters and their actions and avoid immersion in the story (related to Bertolt Brecht's ideas about epic theater), the entire village of Dogville is drawn with chalk on the floor of 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.
  • 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 responsibility 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: Chuck initially tries to emotionally blackmail Grace into having feelings for him. When it becomes apparent that she only views him as a good friend, he then goes to straight blackmail, using her need to hide from the cops to rape her. He continues to rape her while in the orchard, which Vera eventually finds out about. She's also raped by Ben, who she paid to help her escape town, only for him to bring her all the way back when Tom lies about her stealing his father's money from the medicine cabinet. By chapter 7, it becomes common practice for the other men in Dogville to rape her on a near-nightly basis.
  • "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 everyone.
  • 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...".
  • Sins of Our Fathers: Heavily implied to be the reason Grace allows the Mafia to shoot and kill an innocent baby.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Hard, hard to cynicism.
  • Slut-Shaming: Part of the reason the women in Dogville turn on Grace is because they perceive her as being promiscuous and continue to perceive her this way even when it becomes clear that she's being abused sexually.
  • The Smart Guy: Tom likes to see himself as such, though he isn't.
  • So Beautiful, It's a Curse: Liz thinks she's this. Grace becomes an actual victim of this at the hands of the town.
  • Southern Gothic Satan: A twist on the concept in that Grace is far more Jesus than Satan, but her vulnerability still reveals the worst of the townfolk's natures, and by the end of it she decides that yes, everything in the town (except the dog) needs to be dead and/or on fire.
  • Too Dumb to Live:
    • Tom betraying Grace by calling up the mobsters ends up being his undoing, as in the end, Grace has the whole town executed to prevent another innocent soul from being tormented by them. She also makes his execution personal because of his betrayal.
    • Even Grace herself, although her stupidity doesn’t get her killed in the end. When things begin going south, she had plenty of opportunity to escape the way she came before they made her physically incapable of escaping, but stayed out of stubbornness and her own sense of moral superiority to the residents of Dogville, prompting her to forgive them. As well, when given the choice to leave with her father, who was the leader of the Mafia, an organization almost no better than Dogville but will guarantee some level of power and control over her life, or stay in Dogville, powerless and certain to be abused by her tormentors, likely even more so now that they know her origins, Grace almost chooses to stay out of spite for her father.
  • Town with a Dark Secret: Grace is the dark secret.
  • We Used to Be Friends: Grace and Liz got along swimmingly until Liz finds out that Tom and Grace have been sneaking around together. Her jealousy makes turn her back on Grace and treat her just as terribly as everyone else does.
  • 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.
  • World of Jerkass: The entire town of Dogville is this; there is not a single redeemable character and quite fittingly, the citizens deserved to be massacred after their horrible treatment to Grace.
  • 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. She also has her father's men shoot a baby.