Saturday, May 14, 2011


If you like philosophy or sociology, you can’t miss Dogville. It's similar to 1984 or Brave New world in way because it creates a mythical society to serve a purpose. It meticulously constructs how a society develops prejudice once it discovers power. Goes to question if human beings would really be civilized if they didn’t have to be. If they could get away with doing what they did, if they didn’t have to bear the punishment for being inhuman. Haven’t we heard that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely? If a whole society was entitled to power over someone who is powerless by virtue of not belonging, wouldn’t we abuse it and enjoy it? And that is exactly what prejudice is. It is a fair assumption that prejudice for strangers or outsiders arises out of fear and distrust. But Dogville forces to open your eyes to see that prejudice is an open door to experience and use power, especially with the minority. Prejudice makes you feel better about yourself, and liberates you from the real need of proving yourself. Prejudice is easy success and free identity. Grace, (played by Nicole Kidman) was a single, helpless and harmless woman in need of help. Chased by gangsters, she needs shelter and ends up in the fictional town of Dogville. Nobody in Dogville needed to fear her. They didn’t too. They begin as nice people with values who want to embrace her with a notion of altruism. Their values slowly start eroding when a collective sense of abandoning the value systems happen as they start discovering power- the power to get away with raping her, abusing her and mistreating her.

The film’s subtle but intelligent tagline ‘A quiet little town not far from here’ is just the place we are in today – quiet, and with dangerous things deep within us. Dogville might be a slight exaggeration or a simplistic point prover. It reminded me of Dylan’s Not dark yet. But it’s getting there.  

The film is shot like its taking place real time on stage. I think it’s a powerful method to construct a world with minimal distraction. The point to pick is a philosophical question that hounds our society now, and everything else in the film is an aid to be constructing that question.
The pace of the film is slow. But the slowness suited the film. It would be incomplete without it. Because decay in the values of a conditioned society happens only slowly.

Dogville was my second Lars Von Trier movie. The first was Dancer in the dark. Dancer in the dark was deeply disturbing because it brutally portrays a really believable tragedy that we very often want to avoid because most of us are conditioned to hope. We are splattered with inspirational stories where zeroes become heroes, right wins over evil. These actually occur with a low probability. But using Pareto’s 80:20 rule, these 20% stories receive 80% of PR. Dancer in the dark is a shocker, because very simplistically, it depicts a poor, helpless, disabled woman being easily/effortlessly taken advantage of and cheated upon by someone who was stronger, for a very simple reason – he could and he could get away with it too, and that too without much ado. It isn’t counter intuitive. It’s our conditioning that makes us feel disturbed.

Unlike the tragedy that Dancer in the dark is, Dogville has a filmier ending, feel good but powerful.
And you can’t help but love Dogville for the way it questions the arrogance of ‘generosity’ in its climax. The benefit for being generous is to put yourself above the others on a pedestal, because that is what really defines generosity – doing something that most instinctively fail to. And generosity is an easier value to develop because you can control it more easily, and ironically, by going against your primal instincts, as opposed to a quality like ‘being a genius’ which if you don’t have, you don’t know what to do to attain either. So yeah, it’s a guilt free way of making yourself feel good. Grace was treated that way, because she allowed herself to be. She tried to be generous, understand them and forgive them. And all this at the cost of allowing them to become animals. Lars Von Trier asks if  power’s consequences can be offset only by power.

Dogville is serious cinema.Truly, just meant to be thought provoking and nothing else.