Friday, 18 November 2011

Movie Review - Dancer in the Dark

Dancer in the Dark sets out to deconstruct the typical 'American Musical' genre to create a realistic perception of the darker traits it usually avoids. ".. the habitually galling Danish director's 2000 musical was a black-swan genre rarity - a 1960's-set sledgehammer to Broadway and Hollywood's insistence on sunshine endings in golden-era musicals involving Nazis, murder and suicide." Rogers, 2010) The Character Selma is fascinated by the hyper reality of nothing bad ever happening in a musical and uses it as her escape from the dark truths that loom into her life. Selma dreams of being the star of her own musical However this does not mask the gradual increasing dark tone that sets into the film that becomes Selma's ambition to save her son from the same genetic disorder that is causes her to lose her sight and change her life for the worse. The viewer can understand how Selma's mind wanders as she works in a factory surrounded by noise to influence her various songs and imagines that her fellow cast members are dancing and singing alongside her. However, when Selma comes out of her daydream the viewer learns that these sections are her created realities according to her passion for the genre.

Figure 1, (2011), Selma working in the factory first place where audience witnesses her daydreaming

The director, Lars von Trier attempts to change the audience throughout the course of the film. "...von Trier's goal here, I suppose, is to keep the audience off-balance, unable to watch the film as "just a story". In fact the point of Dancer in the Dark, as much as anything, seems to be an attack on the notion of cinema itself..." (Brayton, 2007) Von Trier changes the rules of what the typical musical should be so that only one character lives in the hyper realism through dreams but the darker themes shatter all of that and force the audience to watch. Selma's life in the film becomes so tragic when she is forced to kill Paul because he threatens to take the money she saved as his own and when she receives the death penalty, it hits the mark to the viewer that real life has no guide lines so there is no guarantee of a shiny happy ending. This links to the film Funny Games as that film deconstructs the torture porn genre and why a paying audience should ever go and see a violent film as it attempts to show the dark reality of the torturers winning and out to continue their scam on the next family.
The scenes where Selma is trapped in her confinement, she expresses how she hates the silence and forcibly trying to find the escape of her self created musical, as depicted in figure 2, Selma presses up to the air vent in her cell where she can hear the choir and make her imprisonment seem bearable.

Figure 2, (2011), Selma desperately trying to find inspiration to escape the silence in her cell

The ending truly sets in the strong emotions as Selma struggles to accept that she is about to die and that her story will end. "Dancer in the Dark" is not like any other movie at the multiplex this week, or this year. It is not a 'well made film', is not in 'good taste', is not 'plausible' or, for many people, 'entertaining'. But it smashes down the walls of habit that surround so many movies." (Ebert, 2000) Von Trier did make this film to be liked but as a statement that not all stories have to be happy and turn out as the audience expects, he has rewrote this rule to gain a very different reaction to the final outcome. This also compares to the ending in Funny Games, where the director has the full control of where the story will end and which characters get the benefits. In the case of Dancer in the Dark, the son Gene gets the benefit that he can have the operation and not worry about going blind due to the genetic illness but Selma is the sacrifice to this because she can not accept the money to pay for a proper defence lawyer as a goal to save her son is the only ambition that wishes to see fulfilled.

Figure 3, (2011), Selma singing the second to last song in her last moments


Figure 1, (2011), Selma working in the factory first place where audience witnesses her daydreaming, @, Accessed on: 5th March 2005

Figure 2, (2011), Selma desperately trying to find inspiration to escape the silence in her cell, @, Accessed on: 2011

Figure 3, (2011), Selma singing the second to last song in her last moments, @, Accessed on: 2011


Brayton Tim, (2007), Antagony and Ecstasy - Dancer in the Dark, @, Accessed on: 4th June 2007

Ebert Robert, (2000), Robert, @, Accessed on: 20th October 2000

Rogers Nick, (2010), Heroes of the Zeroes: Dancer in the Dark, @, Accessed on: 25th September 2010



  1. This is a really sensitive, intelligent review Adam - I love the way you connect this film to Funny Games and deconstruction, and it bodes well for your assignment!

  2. Yes! but it is a case on which topic to focus on and not trying to explore too many ideas I hope tracey's lecture next week will just help me consider exactly how to structure it so I will be completely confident to write it

    Only time will tell :)