Dogville is an exaggerated allegorical tale of American culture and society told from the perspective of an outsider, in which we are given the harsh conclusion that the world is full of evil and the only way to overcome it is to be even more evil and cruel than the people who inhabit it.
The film tells the story of Grace (Nicole Kidman) who, from escaping gangsters from the city stumbles upon the small mining town of Dogville. Lars Von Trier chooses not to use big authentic sets to replicate an authentic small American Town during the great depression but instead relies on the audiences imagination and engagement with the story, as the Film opens with a birds eye view shot looking down onto the city which is only seen to be a chalked layout of the street with only a few features of the town that can be physically seen. A dog’s bark alerts the attention of Tom Edison Jr. (Paul Bettany) who finds grace (Nicole Kidman) and helps her out by hiding her in Dogville and averting the attention of Gangsters from the city. It is from there that the town accepts Grace into their community on the condition that she helps out by doing tasks for the residents.
An unsettling atmosphere is created by the exaggerated and possibly artificial behaviour of the residents of Dogville as it seems just like Grace, we are put at unrest by the overly positive attitude of the residents of Dogville, but overtime this behaviour mellows into our subconscious just as it is for Grace, as by the midpoint of the film an equilibrium is created as our moral compass, Grace, becomes attached and falls in love with Tom and she becomes accepted by the town as they vote to keep her in the village. It is from this point where Grace seems to have become a member of the community as they build Grace her own house and she saves enough money to purchase a desired set of china figurines from the village shop as if a symbol of their kindness. But it only takes a wanted poster for this equilibrium to become disrupted, as, during an Independence Day dinner where all the residents are gathered, a police officer puts up a Wanted poster for Grace. This is where Von Trier creatively removes the previously seen façade and reveals the true bitterness of this exaggerated American Community.
The second half of Dogville is where the film really connects with audiences as it demonstrates a polar opposite behaviour to what was seen in the first half as we discover the kindness and innocence of Grace in conjunction with the pure evil behaviour of the residents of Dogville. As Von Trier creates an altered reality where in which the greed of the warrants reward reveals a darker side of each resident and exposes how a small American society during the great depression mistreats outsiders and destroys their dignity once dealt with the chance of obtaining a large sum of money. Dogville then begins to fall down a cruel and nasty turn as the residents lower Graces pay and raises her hours. The male members of the community even rape grace and take advantage of her. But that was not the tipping point, after one of the women in the village finds out her husband raped grace she suggest that she seduced him and the only way to punish her was to destroy her figurines. This is where Grace seems to snap, as after a life of supressing tears and signs of sadness, she weeps as if she had just had her children killed before her. This is a significant turning point for Grace and for audiences in understanding how evil Dogville really is.
After trying to escape, Grace is taken back to Dogville and humiliated by having a bell attached to her to alert the residence of her presence and being chained to an old heavy wheel so she cannot move very fast if she tries to escape again. It is from there that both Grace and audience members alike are filled to the brim with spite and anger as ideas of revenge fill their hearts as everyone in the town even Tom, the once beloved individual who protected grace and brought her into protection, begins to turn against her. It is the thrilling and fulfilling conclusion to this dramatically changed story that helps reward us for enduring the gruelling 3 hour run time of the film as the gangsters from the beginning return in order to collect Grace. This is where we find out that Grace is the daughter of the head gangster and that they have returned to burn the village down. It is from here that Grace gets her revenge as she orders the gangsters to kill the residents and find the woman who destroyed her figurines and have her children killed before her. A harsh reminder for the cruel actions she carried out against grace. Grace’s retort to being asked whether or not she wants the curtains open to see this sums up her final attitudes towards Dogville’s anticipated demise, “I think it’s appropriate”. She then turns to her father and mutters, “Some things you have to do yourself”. To which he replies, “You’re going to have to explain that to me on the way back”. This shows us that in order to survive in Dogville and maybe within the world itself is to overpower its cruelty and surprise even the most evil of individuals.
It’s with one of the final lines that helps me create my conclusion. After killing Tom personally, Grace is about to leave Dogville but is interrupted by the barking of the dog from the beginning. Her father asks, “Why is he barking?” She states “He’ just angry because someone had took his bone”. Showing that the only being to survive Dogville was the one who reacted and frowned upon an outsider’s arrival from the beginning. Emphasising that the only way to survive is to be harsh and reject outsiders with aggression. Although, not the best morale lesson it may be more truthful than any moral conclusion of a Disney film and is probably just a reflection of Von Triers personality. Which is quite ironic seeing that this tale of how American societies accept outsiders but is directed by Lars Von Trier, a man who has never been to America and is deeply afraid of flying. So maybe it may not be best to apply this message into life.
Overall, I believe this is a creative piece of storytelling and like Von Trier’s other work, (specifically Nymphomaniac 1+2) it succeeds at portraying a personal documentation and struggle of its protagonist and how they cope within the world that they are placed in. Also, the cinematography and mise-en-scene of nearly all of the shots are creatively infused and lit with its bare surroundings to help convince audiences of the reality of the setting and help indulge audiences into Von Triers fictionalised American town and relieve a suspicion of its authenticity.