You can love it or you can hate it but you can’t take a middle ground for Dogville. It is a potpourri of various aspects of story telling wrapped under one banner. Though, it is at once experimental and innovative, philosophical and absorbing, provocative and exciting, dull and boring, ugly and hell rising, gripping and mind numbing, yet in the end it remains a stupendous observation on human behavior.
The film has heavyweights like Nicole Kidman playing the character of Grace, Paul Bettany as Tom Edison, Patricia Clarkson, Stellan Skarsgaard and the list is endless. The movie offers no distractions of fabulous locales and poetic sceneries. The entire movie is shot on a sound stage where the street-plan, houses, even the dog and its resting place are marked by a white chalk. There are very few props like a bed, chair perhaps a table. The actors express opening of a door or stepping into the neighbor’s house since there are no doors or houses, even the barking of the dog is a mere sound effect.
Chased by gangsters Grace comes to hide in this little town near the Rocky Mountains. The film is set in the era of the great depression and there is always a morbid mood lingering therefore. Then villagers are suspicious of Grace and are not willing to have her hide in their village but Tom, an earnest young man, persuades the villagers to give her a trial run before taking her in. Tom is taken in by Grace’s easy charms and is besotted by her, even the villagers start liking the pleasant Grace, she is almost like the sunshine in their lives and made them “smile like a prism of light”.
However the relationship built with the seemingly decent and simple village folks that was increasingly pure and uncomplicated in the beginning becomes excruciatingly exploitative by the end. When wanted posters appear, the stake on Grace staying on is increased too. The very same “good, honest people of Dogville,” who provide her with a haven against the gangsters, lock her up, tie her to a bed and use her as the unpaid prostitute of the village. Even Tom, who is so much in love with her and is always on principally high grounds, succumbs to the villagers’ wishes and colludes with them. They used her till every shred of humanity was torn to shreds.
In a shocking twist of events, we find that the gangster chasing Grace is no other than her own father. In her angst, pain and wrath especially at her own lover Tom and the family with kids, she passes an apocalyptic verdict that ends in violent brutality.
Little did she know that such darkness resided in her – she, who was running away from brutality and violence of a gangster’s life. Her inner hollowness, in the few days she spent in Dogville, alleviates with one dictate from her.
Dogville has been portrayed as America critics say, but it is universally true in any society that provides for the weak yet takes advantage of them in terrible ways. It makes us realize that human beings are capable of impalpable abomination, which is covered by seemingly polite façade. We find some sort of consolation and redemption when the narrator says “And if one had the power to put it to right it was one’s duty to do so – for the sake of other towns, for the sake of humanity. And not least for the sake of the human being that was grace herself.”
(I leave you with two emotionally numbing scenes from Dogville)