That Saturday afternoon was a torture. I mean, in a good way: the kind of torture you enjoy only for the first time because you know it will be too painful to have it the second time. But who in the world enjoy being tortured? That afternoon I was watching Lars von Trier’s DANCER IN THE DARK, an irritating but frank story of how we areactually living in hell; we are just pretending that we’re not.
NOTE: some parts of this review may contain clues about the story of the film. Although I don’t consider them a spoiler, you who prefer knowing very little about the film before watching it are suggested to read this review only after watching it.
This is a story of Selma Jezkova (Bjork), a Czekoslovakian mom of her only son Gene (Vladica Kostic). She’s an immigrant worker living in USA. She and Gene live in a trailer on the property of a childless married couple, Bill (David Morse) and Linda (Cara Seymour), and to them she pay rent. Selma’s best friend at work is Kathy (Catherine Deneuve), and Jeff (Peter Stormare) always waits for Selma to give her a ride home (which she always refuses).
Selma wears a pair of very thick glasses because she is shortsighted. She is getting blind. She knows that her shortsightedness is inherited and she knows she passes the disease to Gene. She doesn’t want her son to get blind like her so she saves all the money she gets from work to pay the operation cost. But it eventually won’t go that easy. Selma struggles all day and night working for a few pennies, while in the mean time she goes to see musicals in cinemas and dances for a musical play in a local acting club because she loves dancing and musicals.
Now you can laugh on how cheap, or even fake, the premise of DANCER IN THE DARK is. Like, really? Is this saddenning, full-of-drama story something that might really happened on someone’s life, somewhere around this world? Did the writer-director only make up the story just to get our emotion mixed up? I mean, one is not simply destined to have a series of terrible things like this, right? I imagined after watching it you would throw a statement like, “Well, that was a fictional story. It was only a film, and a film is what it actually is.”
You know what? I don’t care. I think I just couldn’t put my logic to handle the film’s premise because it’s simply not meant to be handled by my logic. Lars von Trier is playing with melancholy, and that’s the only thing that he wants. He wants us to raise a big sympathy for the leading character and from that, he wants us to question about our life. DANCER IN THE DARK wants us to dance, even cheerfully, in the darkness of this life.
And that’s where all the musical numbers coming from. Selma’s imaginations are as wild and as vivid as all the desperations she had in her entire life. As she dances, her life gets balanced. She escapes from her reality although she herself never really admits that her life is as dreadful as how we view it. Bjork’s amazing performance is the key to show innocence that reflects her living her life as what it is. It’s not that she is sorry about her own life; she actually admits that *that* is what life actually is. All these figurative melodramas could be viewed as a form of nihilism: there is no happiness, there is only struggles and desperation.
That’s why I warned you, although it sounds exaggerating, you shouldn’t watch this movie when you feel like your life sucks. You might turn to be a nihilist. In one emotionally exhausting scene in the middle part, I couldn’t help myself but throw my sights away from the screen. Then I went outside my room to seek some fresh air, just to neutralize the mind-fuckingly bold negativity and cynicism the film tried to penetrate into my mind. As the film ended, I swore to myself I would never re-watch it any where in the future.
Why so? It’s intriguing how the director’s view influences the viewers to agree with his belief. I don’t know if the case would be similar if you come to watch the movie in a more stable emotional condition, but I would guarantee that you won’t see Lars von Trier the same way again. The songs might not be the kind of songs you would hum after the movie ends, but all the surrealistic musical numbers are gonna be well-lingered deep in your soul.
The only thumb-down, if I were to seek it to the very deep part of the film, is on how the film totally exhibits our logic and senses to come out and be the judges. DANCER IN THE DARK is an offense to our emotion, and while your defense is weak, DANCER IN THE DARK will torture you inside. Some viewers can’t simply be offended that way; some prefer to include even the smallest piece of their logic to get served by the movie. And when they really do, all the nihilism foundation would be easily diminished to the ground. So even if you feel like you’re gonna be desperate because of the film (or because of the way I write this review), I won’t guarantee that you will really do.
But when you see it using a pair of different glasses, you probably would agree with me that this is such a dangerous work of art that simply cannot be consumed by all kinds of viewers. There is an unwritten precaution before watching the film. Lars von Trier’s amazingly controversial, if not speculative, DANCER IN THE DARK—like I said in the first paragraph—is telling you that your happiness is a daydream: you are living in hell and you don’t need eyes to see that you are.
▲ Bold negativity that lingers, Bjork spectacular performance, surrealism touch in musical numbers
▼ Only a little space for logic to get served
DANCER IN THE DARK | COUNTRY USA YEAR 2000 RATING Rated R for some violence RUNTIME 140 min GENRE Crime, Drama, Musical CAST Bjork, Catherine Deneuve, David Morse, Cara Seymour, Peter Stormare WRITER Lars von Trier DIRECTOR Lars von Trier MORE INFO