Dancer in the Dark (2000)


Denmark; Lars von Trier

Parental Guidance – Violence


In a poor industrial American suburb, Czech immigrant Selma (Bjork) fights to earn a living for herself and her teen son. But she has a secret, which is gradually and insidiously eating away what is left of her life: she has a genetic generative disease and is going blind. Selma is also perfectly aware that her son will have the same fate at adulthood, unless he is operated in time. Out of her meager pay as a factory worker, she saves money for the surgery, while in the evening attending musical drama courses. Selma lives for musicals, and as she faces trial for murder she mentally singles out each step of her descent into hell with bursts of choreographed singing and dancing. 

Despite its title, Dancer in the Dark starts with a terrific, hypnotic celebration of color. Dim shades of color blossom slowly on the immaculately white screen, darkening into a gratuitous burst of flamboyant and variegated mayhem. This stands in sharp contrast with the film’s earthly, down-to-earth chromatics. But, again, we are in Selma’s inner reality, whose unlikely pretty head is full with songs, choirs, dances and pirouettes. She seems resigned with the fact her paradise is on the stage, on the sliver screens and in the mind. Behind a naïve smile, she is acutely aware that, for her, there is no light at the end of the tunnel. There will never, ever be any light. However, she is far from having severe the ties with the world. As the veil of darkness fall, she is seen seeking with quiet desperation a way not to lose touch: in small, fearful and twitchy gestures, she clutches objects and persons alike, in a hopeless bid never to let these elusive, mysterious realities surrounding her go away, eaten by the ocean of nothingness. Bjork, in this role, is so much more than a star. Calling her a star would actually be an insult: she is beyond acting, beyond any fakery or posturing. A poignant bundle of contradictions, Selma is literally irradiating love. She dreams she dances happily with the man who robbed, betrayed her, and that she just murdered. She can’t picture a world different from those of her musicals, a world full of anything but songs, love and joy.

That is Selma’s tragedy. That is also the audience’s tragedy: being forced to witness this sweet, child-like smile wear away, having to resist the urge to just hug her and whisper: “It will be OK”.

Lars von Trier is not supposed to do films like “Dancer in the Dark”.   But Antichrist and Nymphomaniac’s enfant terrible delivered something totally devoid of cynicism or perversity, a sublime and odd fairy tale humming with genuine, overwhelming humanity.


Dancer in the dark ver2  Dancer


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