Like Tim Burton and David Lynch before him, Lars von Trier relies on emotional sucker punches rather than effective narrative and story telling to get his point across to the viewer. Like the similarly heavy-handed Breaking the Waves, which Mr. Von Trier also gave to us, Dancer in the Dark never gives us an inch of breathing room. From the very onset we are told exactly what to feel and when to feel it. While the attention to detail displayed in the movie is impressive, the characters become so overtly one-dimensional that their various plights become something of a bore.
While the requisite weirdness does break things up nicely, in the end what we are left with is a dull story about an honest, hardworking mother who sacrifices everything for her child, not stopping short of martyring herself. The really annoying part is that the kid was going blind, not in need of a heart-valve or dying from childhood onset diabetes. In case you had any doubt after the two hour plus tear-a-thon of Bjorks Christ-like qualities, von Trier goes ahead and crucifies her. Which, if you are a died in the wool Bjork Hater like myself, was by far the best part of the movie.
I suppose Dancer cannot be discussed without mentioning the musical sequences, which did posses a surreal nay beautiful quality. The choreography was brilliant, the settings unique (The back of a train, a factory, prison) and the overall packaging was fun to watch. However, what they had to do with the plot or effectively telling the story is beyond me. I suppose that realizing Bjork was in fact the lead, von Trier decided to take advantage of her actual talent, which is not acting. Sort of like when John Carpenter had Rowdy Roddy Piper wrestle a guy in They Live. All in all, Dancer in the Dark will be loved by high school drama classes for decades to come and will leave the majority of its viewing audience wishing they had rented something less artsy. Like Commando.
The first thing to understand about Dancer is that it is not really a traditional drama. It’s based on a fairy tail and done as a melodrama and musical, so it uses the logic of all three. The musical numbers are more interesting than entertaining, which is a pretty good description of the movie as a whole.
But it is a good movie. The mish mash of genres works to form a cohesive film that is well worth seeing. Unlike most musicals and melodramas, things turn out almost sadistically badly for the characters. The origin of it all, as we learn in the commentary, is the “Goodheart” fairy-tail that von Trier read as a child, not knowing that the pages containing the happy ending were torn out.
The commentary is great. For all his accolades, we rarely hear from von Trier in the U.S. media and he covers everything here, from the origins of his style to his relationship with Bjork. The latter is a real highlight. Von Trier and his producer, like all refined people, ease into their badmouthing. Each time they discuss Bjork, they do so in a less flattering way, dropping tid-bits here and there. By the end we have the full picture: Bjork is a prima donna with no sense of accountability who almost ruined the movie. Aside from all of the difficulties behind the scenes, Bjork does a good job but I was more impressed by the excellent supporting cast.
Erich’s Ruthless Ratings:
- Overall: 7.5
- Directing: 8
- Acting: 8
- Story: 7
- Rewatchability: 4
- DVD Extras: 8
- Number of times I paused the movie to do something else: 1
- Number of beers I would need to completely enjoy this movie: 1
- Number of cameras von Trier used for some scenes: 100