Dancer in the Dark (2000) (R)
"Dancer in the Dark" is a movie that becomes remarkably easy to hate nearly half way through the film. It has a decidedly dark look on humanity, reflecting the depressing mood that its director, Lars van Trier, seems to shove into almost everything he does. This stance on man's evilness is contrasted by an innocent bordering on mentally unstable naivety exemplified by the main character Selma.
Selma is an immigrant from Czechoslovakia, she now lives in America in a small trailer on someone's property. She is playing Maria in a low budget stage production of "The Sound of Music" and she adores the singing and dancing. A light-hearted spirit, Selma works at a factory and does other tedious jobs for money so she can save up enough money for her son.
Selma is going blind.
She practices the eyesight tests until she can pass as a person with vision. She fools everyone so that she can keep working, she needs money. Her eye condition is hereditary and she knows that it was passed on to her son. To many she may seem as uncaring because she refuses to accept acts of charity and she remains painfully guarded of her secrets. Her son doesn't even know that he will eventually go blind as she is. The money is for an operation for her son...to reverse the degrading state of his sight.
Yet Selma, more than being a mother, is a dreamer. She hears music everywhere. While working in the factory she hears the machines beating out a rhythm for her to dance and sing to. The train makes percussive noises too.
This is where the movie starts to feel a little weird.
Because "Dancer in the Dark" was one of the first digitally filmed movies, it looks pretty bad. It seems like if it had waited just five years later it could have been much more pleasing to look at...that's just my two cents. Shooting in the fashion that would inspire every hipster with a camera to make movies, von Trier makes a heavy drama—then he makes a musical. For running well over two hours long, there are only a few songs in "Dancer in the Dark" and all of them sound exactly the same. It could be von Trier's fault for helping with the musical process instead of trusting someone else to do the job. It could also be his lead actress Björk's fault. Either way, the songs get monotonous and stretch on far beyond the time they were welcome.
The movie has a very immature script that assumes people will act in a way very contrary to the bleakness of the stance von Trier is making. It's a depressing movie and one that is uncomfortable to watch. Selma is the most joyous and innocent of people, naturally everything bad happens to her.
By the time the end scene has come and gone, the amount of bad obstacles that Selma fails to vault over has reached a tally that becomes almost laughable. If there were any sarcasm and with to how "Dancer in the Dark" was filmed, it could be a very dark comedy.
The couple whose land Selma is staying on are nice...they seem normal. Selma thinks she has already figured out their quirks. She tells her son to always mention the husband's money that he inherited because he likes to talk about it. But secrets soon become uncovered and Selma's mind begins to spin under all the pressure.
Selma's job at the factory is demanding, physically and mentally. She has to stay alert the whole time or she might destroy some of the machinery.
The cuts between the drama of Selma's every day life and the musical numbers are jarring. That added onto the fact that the musicality of the songs is somewhat dreamy gives you very hallucinatory numbers paired with intense reality.
You can tell from the beginning that the movie is not going to have a happy ending...it seems inevitable. Just how unhappy...now that's a different story.
Some could argue that Selma's story does conclude with happiness, but I just felt manipulated by a director/writer who really didn't have enough faith in the audience to fully entrust his story to them...unadulterated.
The nice characters are too nice and the mean ones...too mean.
Björk is really stunning in the movie though, she is completely believable. The rest of the picture is regretfully somewhat dry.
Score: 2 and a half stars out of 4
Posted by Micah Jones