Dancer in the Dark

Lars von Trier

8/10 (uneven and inaccessible)

This is the final film in Lars von Trier’s Golden Heart Trilogy (“Breaking the Waves” and “The Idiots” are the first two), and it is neither the best nor the strangest, although it is arguably the most unique. It is a musical and a moral tragedy about the destruction of a blind saint, played by the singer Bjork. If that combination of genres sounds too weird to be true, I can assure you that it nearly is.

There is a complicated plot about a degenerative blindness that Bjork has passed onto her son, so that she works slavishly to save up money in order to pay for an operation for him. Meanwhile, she has gone almost completely blind while hiding it from most of the world. Perhaps due to this loss of vision, she has a fertile imagination that flowers into daydreams occasionally, which occur as musical numbers throughout the film. During one such sequence, she damages a machine at work and is fired. Events spiral downhill and out of control quite rapidly after this, but I won’t divulge anymore so that any new viewer enjoys it while it unfolds. I can warn you without giving too much away that it doesn’t end too happily. The ending is shocking to say the least. And by ending I literally mean the last three seconds or so before the credits.

The story would be nothing but an overblown melodrama without the style chosen by Lars von Trier. He intersperses these musical numbers often at wildly inappropriate times, such as right after a murder has taken place, or when somebody is on death row. This could almost come across like a joke gone horribly wrong, except that the rest of the movie is so well-grounded in gritty, stark photography and genuinely grueling performances by all actors involved. The style strikes one instead as boldly imaginative and fearless, even if it occasionally feels borderline insane.

Much like “The Idiots,” I can guarantee that you’ve never seen a film like this before. You will probably benefit just from experiencing something altogether new and fresh. I can’t promise that you’ll like it — it’s difficult to watch, and becomes almost intolerable towards the end as the misfortunes pile up. Some critics hated the movie, even going so far as to give it a 0 out of 5. That’s clearly an emotional response, because the originality of the film deserves at least a point or two. I would say that the fact that someone responds so strongly (even in the negative) indicates that the movie deserves a higher rating, because it’s all-too-rare to find a film with such a visceral impact. For that impact alone, this film is worthwhile. And adding this emotional impact to the pure creative style of its conceptual design, “Dancer” becomes almost a must-see.

23 March 2010

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