Dancer in the Dark is a musical by Lars von Trier, starring Björk as Selma, a Czech immigrant in the USA. Selma is a single mother living with her son Gene in a trailer in someone's back yard.

She works every waking hour to make money, so she can afford an eye operation for Gene, saving him from going blind due to the hereditary eye-disease he has from her. Selma herself is almost blind but tries to hide it, and she hasn't told her son about his disease so he won't worry about it.

The only recreation she allows herself is playing Maria in "The Sound of Music" being rehearsed at the local theatre, though she has some trouble due to her failing sight. She loves musicals, and often daydream at work, hearing songs and melodies in the rhytmic noises made by the machines.

Things get bad when a desperate neighbour, the policeman Bill (David Morse), steals her money and claims they are his own. Then things go from bad to worse.

A thoroughly gripping and plausible movie about how life's not fair to some people. I cried through the last third of the film, and could barely walk out of the cinema afterwards.

I highly recommend it. =)

Dancer in the Dark gave me motion sickness and nearly made me throw up. It took my day's happiness, ripped it into shreds, and flushed it down the drain somewhere in rural western Kazakhstan. At the end my girlfriend (with whom I had gone to the movie) and I hugged each other and cried for a couple minutes, then exited the theater and walked, shocked and rattled, the few blocks to her apartment.

That said, it was a fantastic movie. The emotional power was immense and felt immediately present. Björk was fantastic, she completely became Selma. I don't know that I ever want to see it again, but I probably do. I highly recommend it, but not on a day you're feeling down. It was amazing.

I'm not going to lie. The first third of the movie was pretty awful, but necessary to establish the characters. The only reason why it stayed in the VCR was I demanded we give it five more minutes, like, 5 times. After that, it stayed, though I was the only one really watching.

But the rest of the movie came like a train. You know it's coming, and it isn't going to stop. You watch as Selma (played by Björk) aquires habits that keep her employed, and then has her hopes . . .

The last thirty seconds of this film are etched in my psyche. I play the soundtrack, Selmasongs, a lot.

In this role, Björk makes me uncomfortable. I see her face as she pushes up her glasses every time I push up my own. She's there, and she ain't getting out.

Problems: the film could have been up to a half hour shorter if they had just hired a good editor.

Besides Bjork, a cool but very small performance by a woman named Siobhan Fallon who played a prison guard Brenda, maybe accentuated because I've always seen her in comedys, like Men In Black.

You might really, really, really, hate this movie, and I understand. I guess I am alone in my little group of friends, but then again, I liked Eyes Wide Shut, too.

2000

Director: Lars von Trier (Zentropa, The Kingdom, Breaking the Waves)

Cast:

Björk - Selma Jezkova
Catherine Deneuve - Kathy
David Morse - Bill
Peter Stormare - Jeff
Joel Grey - Oldrich Novy
Cara Seymour - Linda Houston
Vladica Kostic - Gene Yeskova
Jean-Marc Barr - Norman
Vincent Paterson - Samuel
Siobhan Fallon - Brenda
Zeljko Ivanek - District Attorney
Udo Kier - Dr. Porkorny
Jens Albinus - Morty
Reathel Bean - Judge

MPAA Rating: R

Runtime: 140 Minutes

Genres: musical, melodrama, drama, tragedy

Plot Synopsis:

Pop singer Björk stars as east European immigrant Selma, who works in a pressing plant in Washington state. Selma struggles to support herself and her son Gene, working overtime and carding pins in what time is left. Despite the additional trouble of her son's truancy, her life is not unbearable. An insatiable fan of musicals, she has just won the starring role in a local production of The Sound of Music and is tenatively exploring the possibility of romance with Jeff, a local man who waits for hours in the parking lot outside the factory to offer her a ride home. Her landlord Bill, rapidly falling into debt because of his shopaholic wife, confides in her his money problems. Embarassed and with pity toward her friend, she shares her dark secret: she has a genetic disorder which is causing her eyesight to fail- she will be completely blind within several months. What's worse, the disorder has been passed on to her son, who must recieve an operation before his thirteenth birthday or he too will suffer Selma's fate. Wracked with a sense of guilt, Selma has saved almost $2,000 dollars for the operation, hiding it in a candy tin in her kitchen. But when her failing eyesight and trust in Bill lead to the sudden disappearance of her savings, she confronts him. Her tragic misadventures are periodically interrupted by lavish song and dance numbers that serve as a harsh counterpoint to her drab and frightening everyday life.

Review:

Reviews for Dancer in the Dark were extremely black and white. Some reviewers hated the movie's melodrama and the emotional manipulation of its stark and brutal portrayal of Selma's trials, while others loved it. True, the plot drags initially, and it's runtime of almost two and a half hours feels a bit long- but the last hour and a half of the movie grab the viewer by the throat, and it would take a truly cold-hearted viewer not to be touched by Björk's heartfelt acting and her character's plight. The last five minutes of the movie may be the most emotionally charged climax ever seen in a movie. The cinematography itself is beautiful. Shot entirely in digital, the majoritiy of the movie is in washed-out color which switches into vibrant, super-saturated hues during the musical sequences. Although it runs a bit long and blatantly yanks the viewer's heartstrings, Dancer in the Dark is an ultimately fulfilling and beautiful movie. It should be highly reccomended for its amazing musical sequences, stirring score, and talented acting.

Awards:

Academy Awards 2000

Best Song (nom) - Lars von Trier
Best Song (nom) - Björk
Best Song (nom) - Sjon Sigurdsson
Cannes Film Festival 2000
Best Female Performance (win) - Björk
Palme D'or (win)
European Film Awards 2000
Best European Actress (win) - Bjork
Best European Film (win)
People's Choice Award: Best Actress (win) - Bjork
People's Choice Award: Best Director (win) - Lars von Trier
French Academy of Cinema 2000
Best Foreign Film (nom)
Golden Globe Awards 2000
Best Actress - Drama (nom) - Björk
Best Original Song (nom) - Sjon Sigurdsson
Best Original Song (nom) - Lars von Trier
National Board of Review 2000
#10 Film of the Year (win) Best Musical Performance (win) - Bjork

Selmasongs: The Soundtrack to Dancer in the Dark

Björk's superb sountrack to Dancer in the Dark melds her quirky electronic dance-pop with sweeping orchestral sounds. The Overture, (which sounds like it should be accompanied by an aerial view of rolling, snow-topped Cascade mountains) is introduced in the movie with an abstract depiction of crimson flowers. "Cvalda" is the product of Selma's overactive on the job imagination, using industrial clicks and whirrs as its percussive background (watching the movie after hearing this song is a surreal experience. During every factory sequence you expect the song to begin.). "I've Seen It All" similarly uses the sound of a train engine as its cue, and replaces the movie's Jeff with Thom Yorke's (vastly superior) vocals. In his duet with Björk, the two argue over the significance of sight, with Selma rationalizing her loss of sight by claiming that there is nothing else for her to see. "Scatterheart" is a reworking of the movie's pivotal musical sequence, changed into a lullaby to Gene so as not to reveal the plot of the movie. "In the Musicals" combines two similar sequences from the movie and gives Björk all of the vocals. "107 Steps," a suspenseful experience in the movie, suffers when removed from context, but still delivers musically. "New World," the final song on the soundtrack, actually accompanies the credits of the movie. Its effect after the movie's climax is transcendental and devastating, and it is a highlight of the record on its own merits.

Tracklisting:

  1. Overture - (Arranged by Vincent Mendoza) - (3:38)
  2. Cvalda - (Performed by Björk and Catherine Denevue) - (4:48)
  3. I've Seen It All - (Performed by Björk and Thom Yorke) - (5:29)
  4. Scatterheart - (6:39)
  5. In The Musicals - (4:41)
  6. 107 Steps - (Performed by Björk and Siobhan Fallon) - (2:36)
  7. New World - (4:23)

(Tracks 2 & 5 written by Björk, Mark Bell, Sjon Sigurdsson, and Lars von Trier. Tracks 3, 4, 6, & 7 written by Björk, Sjon Sigurdsson, and von Trier. All tracks writting by Björk.)

I went to see this film on opening night with a friend of mine. I dig independent films and had heard that Bjork was amazing in her role, so I decided to check it out. My friend and I were excited on the way to the theater as we both harbor a minor crush on Bjork. We bought our tickets, found our seats, and sat back to enjoy the film with no idea what to expect.

When the movie ended I felt emotionally shattered. It was like someone had used a pile-driver on my insides; everything felt broken and pulverized into Pretzellogic-colored goo. We just sat there for a minute or two before remembering that one is expected to leave the theater after a movie ends. Dancer in the Dark is the most emotionally wrenching film I have ever seen. The second half of this movie would leave even the hardest movie critic blubbering into their popcorn.

I didn't actually cry, neither did my friend. We walked to the car in a sort of stunned quiet, to broken to speak. I finally broke the silence as we drove out of the city: "That was an incredible film. I don't ever want to see it again."

For the record it was an amazing film. There were moments of real beauty—most notably a musical scene on a train that was shot using over a hundred camera angles—and I enjoyed the film immensely, but there were scenes just too sad and too intense for me to ever want to watch again.

What amazing power this film has to affect like this. It still affects me, too. As I write this I can feel my insides going a big rubbery one.

Originally posted in the (since nuked) movies that make you want to cry alone in a dark room for hours.

A difficult view, in more ways than one...

...but worth it. There aren't many movies that make me cry the whole way through, but this is certainly one of them.

Bjork more than plays the Selma: she embodies her, giving Selma a special grace that is as expressive and subtle as her voice. Like Bjork's singing--at times resigned, but at times overflowing with emotion--her performace slowly invades your sympathy, carrying you with her. Selma is fascinated with musicals, so the movie incorporates musical elements, including singing and dancing numbers. The sequences flow from the imagination of Selma more than the reality of her life, providing a contrast that is strikingly pathological. However, it would be hard to accept the layers of misfortune heaped upon her without escaping with her through those scenes, and you begin to cling to them--in effect you are drawn into her world.

While the pretensions of the director do show through (especially in his unnecessary and obsessive fascination with the "100 Cameras" concept that renders many of the musical scenes distant and obstructed) the power of the story rises above the technical issues, which are more than acceptable for a Cannes film. A recommended see.

At the center of Lars von Triar’s Dancer is a Dark is an endearing and simple woman, Selma (Bjork). A Czech immigrant, Selma is ridden with a genetic disorder that is destined to make her blind. But this film is very different from the “dealing with disease” films where early on we are treated to an emotional catharthis. Here, we don’t see Selma crying or complaining about her fate. It is actually quite shocking how little Selma worries about losing her eyesight.

When she tells a neighbor that she will completely lose her eyesight, she does so in matter-of-fact calm manner. “I’ve known it all my life,” Selma says. Despite the fact that her declining eyesight complicates virtually all the facets of her everyday experience. Walking to and from work is difficult - she almost runs in front of a moving truck. She has trouble reading the scripts for her musicals and seeing her partners clearly when she dances. However, despite her difficulties, she harbors no plans of quitting her hobby or work. Even though unrealistic, the aspiration to continue her work is especially important to her: she wants to make enough money to pay for her son’s operation to correct the same genetic effect for blindness that she has. (It is too late to correct to her own)

Selma’s nonchalant attitude towards her growing blindness places much emotional tension on the viewer. It feels like we know more about the difficulties that await her more than she does. We worry about the disappointment and disillusionment she may later encounter because of her unwillingness to surrender to her fate. And the fact that her motivation is noble - to help her son - we are prevented from blaming her and made to feel even more sorry for her.

Her optimism for her condition provides for moments that are funny but at the same time colored with a tint of sadness. One of these is in a scene where Selma goes to see a musical in the cinema with her friend Kathy (Catherine Deneuve.) Squinting to try to piece together the onscreen movement of dancers, Selma, with a gleeful voice and excited eyes, asks her friend to describe it to her. Cathy starts talking to her, but then a man sitting across from her yells at her to hush up. After a short comic spar between the two, Kathy manages to keep her friend informed by tapping out the dance sequence on her outstretched palm. Satisfied, Selma’s face shines with a bright smile. While we may be charmed by Selma’s inept, childlike situation and her innocent delight, this light-hearted episode is also a painful reminder of her difficult situation and a harbinger for increasing difficulties she will have to face because of her declining eyesight.

The pull and push between Selma’s exuberant imagination and vitality and the increasing limitations brought about by her declining vision heighten as the movie progresses. The more she retreats from the pain of her life, the more the viewer feels it.

Selma’s secret to avoid being driven insane by her mounting difficulties is her love for dance. At the very moments that something almost knocks her down, she bursts into song - literally. Anticipating her blindness, Selma decides to take on extra hours at the factory to make more money to ensure there will be enough for the operation. “Night Shift?” Her surprised friend sneers at her. “You can hardly do your own shift?” “I can work with my eyes closed,” she reassures her friend - and that’s almost exactly what she ends up doing. The room grows darker to her weary eyes and the grinding and stamping of the machines intensifies. “Faster, faster” her supervisor tells her but she can barely keep up the pace.

We’re quite setup for a tragic finale here - something dreary and demoralizing. Perhaps she will fall unconscious or cry out in bitter tears of frustration. But surprise, the sparks of electricity coming from the engineers light up the room and everyone in the factory breaks out into a musical dance number with Selma singing the lead. The catharsis we have waited for has not been given to us - while Selma escapes through her imagination, our emotions continue to bottle up.

As the movie approaches climax at a horrifying tragedy, Selma continues to deal with disappointment by retreating into her fantasy world of dance. While her transcendence may be poignant and inspirational, the viewer is often wearied and pained by her helplessness in controlling her real life. Depending on how you view it, you may wallow in sorrow and compassion for Selma, or you may act with annoyance and frustration.

Either way, Lars Von Trier’s film is so haunting that it will stick in your mind for a long time. Its emotional and artistic depth is astonishing. But although the beauty and wonder it conveys are exquisite, don’t watch it with your logical, rational hat on. The plot is composed of fragmented scenes that have little sense of progression. The credibility of the story may be undermined if its various elements are closely reflected upon. For example, the frequent use of coincidences to create drama may make some of the dilemmas encountered by the protagonist seem unrealistic. Like an impressionistic painting, the movie has its impact, but the details are blurry.

Informational Note: Lars Von Triar's other noteworthy films include:

The Kingdom

Breaking the Waves

The Idiots

Zenthropa

Dogville

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