Dancer in the Dark (2000) – a review

Dancer in the Dark” is a 2000 Danish musical/drama film directed by Lars von Trier and starring Björk as the main character, Catherine Deneuve, David Morse, Cara Seymour, Peter Stormare, Siobhan Fallon Hogan and Joel Grey.

After more than a month, I finally got the time, chance and courage to watch this 2-hour and 14 minute film of mixed musical and drama. The film starts with incoherent, colorful patterns that I still don’t know what to do with the rest of the film. It actually made me remember of watching another Lars von Trier film, “Antichrist” with almost the same kind of opening sequence.

Back to the story, it all starts with Selma, a Czech immigrant who has moved to the United States with her son, Gene. Selma and her son lives in poverty while Selma works at a factory with her friend, Kathy. She also attends a rehearsal of a theater play with Selma as one of the main characters. Selma lives in a trailer home inside the property of Bill, a policeman and his wife, Linda. Selma also has a “suitor” named Jeff. None of Selma’s acquaintances know her secret, even her own son, that they have a hereditary disease which gradually will make them blind. Selma is saving up money (putting it in a candy tin can and hides it in her kitchen) for her son’s operation to prevent him from suffering the same situation as Selma’s. Selma is somewhat very inclined to music. A simple rhythm (the sound that machines in the factory makes, etc.) can make her daydream that everyone in her surrounding, including her, suddenly burst into musical numbers very much like Hollywood. Because of this, Selma often make mistakes in the factory that almost injured her and ultimately broke a machine.

I’m sure that most people, as the film progresses, will think Selma as a psycho (it’s extreme daydreaming she encounters). I also thought of that at some point. Anyway, Bill, the police officer who owns the property where Selma’s living, reveals that there is nothing left in his inheritance, because his wife Linda is living a luxurious life while they are behind payments and the bank is going to acquire Bill’s house. Selma tells her own secret about her disease to comfort Bill and promising each other to keep each other’s secret. As the story goes, Bill then asked Selma for a loan, knowing she’s been saving up, but Selma declines, telling him that the money she’s been saving is for the eye operation of her son, Gene. On one of the scenes, Bill and Selma said goodnight to each other. Bill then closes the door. On the other hand, Selma, heard the door closed, thinks that Bill has gone out but in reality, Bill is still inside, watching Selma where she’s hides her money (Selma, at this time sees almost very poorly). The next day, after having broken her machine on night shift through careless error, Selma is fired from her job. When she comes home to put her final wages away she finds the tin is empty; she goes next door to report the theft to Bill and Linda only to hear Linda discussing how Bill has brought home their safe deposit box to count their savings. Linda additionally reveals that Bill has “confessed” his affair with Selma, and that Selma must move out immediately. Knowing that Bill was broke and that the money he is counting must be hers, she confronts him and attempts to take the money back. He draws a gun on her, and in a struggle he is wounded. Linda discovers the two of them and, assuming that Selma is attempting to steal the money, runs off to tell the police at Bill’s command. Bill then begs Selma to take his life, telling her that this will be the only way she will ever reclaim the money that he stole from her. Selma shoots at him several times, but due to her blindness manages to only maim Bill further. In one of the scenes, Selma slips into a trance and imagines that Bill’s corpse stands up and slow dances with her, urging her to run to freedom. She does, and takes the money to the Institute for the Blind to pay for her son’s operation before the police can take it from her. Selma is then caught and eventually put on trial. From this moment forward, I feel so much pity on Selma and so much anger for Bill for dragging Selma in all of this. Selma’s been saving up to “save” her son but Bill took it from her. As the court scene progressed, Selma is eventually convicted and is to be hanged. Meanwhile, Kathy and Jeff got Selma’s money back using it instead to pay for a private lawyer who has an ability to win her case. Knowing that the money to be paid was the one intended for her son’s operation, Selma becomes furious and refuses the lawyer, opting to face the death penalty rather than let her son go blind. The day of the execution comes and Brenda, a sympathetic female prison guard accompanies Selma to walk. While walking, she is then again goes into a daydreaming mode, dancing, opening cells and hugging other inmates. Arriving at the gallows, Selma becomes terrified which made her to be strapped on a collapse board. She screams that she can’t breathe after she is placed with a hood over her face. To calm Selma, Kathy then rushes to inform her that the operation was successful and her son, Gene will be alright. Relieved, Selma sings a song on the gallows in a cappella, when suddenly she was hanged before she finishes the song. A curtain is drawn in front of her while she is seen hanging (resembles the musical/theater part of the film, which can mean the final curtain, the end, etc.) while the unsung part of the song was shown on screen: “They say it’s the last song/They don’t know us, you see/It’s only the last song/If we let it be.” The ending is one of the most wretched and depressing film endings I saw to date. The gallows scene especially the part that she fell and ultimately hanged then accompanied with a silence is very brutal and disturbing for some. Being a fan of horror films, I am quite used in terror but this is of a different kind. But I will stay on my word on watching every film on “25 Movies That Will Destroy Your Faith in Humanity” list.

To conclude, the film is a mixture of drama and merry musicals with a serious tone in it, most of the scenes are certainly depressing. This film is not for the faint-hearted. I give Björk a 5 out of 5 for an outstanding performance. Meanwhile, Lars von Trier, quoted from the 25 Movies That Will Destroy Your Faith in Humanity article, is “so good at completely destroying his audience” that I will also give him a 5 out of 5 (His “Antichrist” film will also give the same feeling, though more brutal.. literally). All in all, definitely a great film to watch. But don’t say I didn’t warned you.

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One Response to Dancer in the Dark (2000) – a review

  1. dbmoviesblog says:

    Nice post. This is one of Lars Von Trier’s films which I haven’t managed to watch, but I’ll definitely give it a shot now.

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