Lars Von Trier
There are two moral messages in this film, one, that people suck, and two, that revenge is sweet. The first message, is pretty indisputable. People do suck, and Von Trier does a job pointing that out which would probably make even Stanley Kubrick happy, for a few seconds. The problem, however, is that he kind of keeps making this point over and over throughout the film without giving us much else to think about. Von Trier's methods, for this reviewer, at least, begin to seem heavy handed, at times verging on outright predictable. Perhaps this is some secret overture meant for Lorne Michaels. I do not know. In any case, this type of basic observation on human nature is the kind of thing Mark Twain would have covered in passing, while still offering up a true and detached fictional narrative. That is to say Dogville has no real narrative. It isn't about what happens to the various characters in the play including Grace, it's about Grace, who is us, and how other people are treating us. In this way, it's a rather egocentric endeavour, which is fine, if that's how you like it.
The second moral message, that revenge is a dish best served by Nicole Kidman, is where the real debate lies. So they burn the town, as those of you who saw the film will attest. So they exact the Lord's wrath. Jolly good. Okay, so what if Jesus did say "fuck this," got down off the cross and together with God torched the Romans and Jews into a nice bag of ox crisps? Okay. Fine. And if we look at it from the point of view of the Jesus story, with Jesus as this distant figure, which, I mean come on, he is (does anyone really look at pictures of Jesus on the cross and say, "That's me! That could be me!"), then of course we can accept this alternative ending. I mean it's not as if the town doesn't deserve it, and besides, who am I to tell Jesus and God what to do. Ah, but that's exactly not how the story is presented. As I say, Von Trier has just spent the entire film making us identify immensely with Grace. We suffer with her and are betrayed, used and abused right there with her. Every inch. And so when the decision comes on whether to forgive and forget or torch, it's our decision. Therefore, when an entire room full of New Yorkers at the Lincoln Film Center cheered riotiously at the decision to torch the place, I felt a sinking feeling all through my gutty-wuts.
Let me summarize. Von Trier has just filled a room full of New Yorkers with more bloodlust and hate than they came in with, then he indulged them in it, and then he sent them home satisfied, even as the smoke was still trying to settle. What a trick! But wait, none of them got it? They just went home? Nobody suffered at all. Nobody learned anything! And so I ask what is the point? What is the point of having a film where the moral is specifically designed to go right over the heads of all those who would benefit from it most?
And here is where the Bergman film The Virgin Spring differs greatly. At the end of TVS, the person who commits the act of revenge (acting on our behalf) is made to realize his error, our error. He must therefore repent and atone before we can go home. That is the moral lesson. That is what Von Trier has ?selfishly witheld from a room full of New Yorkers. And that is what grieves me the most.