Dancer in the Dark

Dancer in the Dark

Written and directed by Lars Von Trier

Starring Björk, Catherine Deneuve, Dan Morris

Short-sighted Selma (Björk) left sunny socialist Czechoslovakia for the dreary skies of Washington state back in ’64. The solidarity’s not as much fun, but the medical care is better and she hopes to save her son from the secret hereditary disease that has already stolen most of her sight. She’s pounding out sinks on the day shift with Kathy (Deneuve) keeping her from cutting her fingers off, and pounding out bad Sound Of Music at night in the community theater. She’s almost saved the scratch when she has a heart to heart with her landlord Bill (David Morris). He’s got a secret, too: he’s about to go bankrupt and can’t bring himself to end it all. It’s the weather, I’m sure. If they were here in Florida, he’d still be broke, but much happier. He steals her money, and when they scuffle, he wings himself and begs her to finish him off. Since her whole life is a musical fantasy (in her head, at least), she does. Since she promised Bill she wouldn’t spill his secret, she’s now about to swing, and won’t ask for a stay since that would require giving a lawyer the $2056.10 her son needs.

It helps a lot if you actually like the way Björk sings, and it helps a lot if you see musicals breaking out everywhere — on the factory floor, railroad work gang, the courtroom, on death row. It helps if you grok jittery, out of focus camera work, the sort of stuff grandpa shot at Marineland. And it helps if you find for deep psychological significance in folded towels and stacked sinks. But it won’t help enough. Nothing bad ever happens in a musical, and Selma’s falls into one at the least sign of stress. And they go on and on, because she always skipped out before the finale. And now, she’s gonna swing for the last time.

The message here seems to be anti-death penalty, although it’s a weak case. Yeah, Selma got an incredibly bad deal. And her lawyer stank. And telling the truth would have saved her some misery. But she swapped her life for the chance her son might see his grandchildren, and she had ample opportunity to make a better deal. Did I mention Joel Gray makes a cameo? I thought not.

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