Our latest addition to the Cinematical team, David Ehrlich, came up with a great new theme for our series of fan-centric musings: "Greatest Movie Endings." The piece is now open to all of our talented writers, so stay tuned for lots of spoiler-filled musings.
After being mesmerized by The Kingdom, I couldn't help but grab a ticket to Lars von Trier's Dogville when it screened at TIFF back in 2003. I wasn't very familiar ... yet ... with von Trier's work, but with visions of eerie hospitals dancing through my head, I couldn't help but see what he'd do with the likes of Nicole Kidman, Paul Bettany, Patricia Clarkson, and more. I settled in and the almost 3-hour movie absolutely flew by.
It was like a cerebral and chilling spin on Our Town. Though it didn't have the supernatural frights of The Kingdom, Dogville revealed unshakable human fears and ugliness that morph from seeming kindness into exploitation and cruelty. Without most props, sets, and a complete lack of environment, all you could do was focus on Grace and her experiences in that small town of chalk outlines, which had to inevitably come to a head.
[Spoiler alert: Obviously, what follows after the jump is a discussion of the film's ending.]
After Grace is unfairly chastised, continually sexually assaulted, condemned, and humiliated and tortured by having to wear a collar attached to an iron wheel, the residents of Dogville want her gone, but the phone number that should be their "salvation" is their deadly undoing. Tom calls the mobsters, but they've not been after Grace to kill her. The boss (James Caan) is her father, who regrets shooting at her after an argument.
He has come back to tell her that she, herself, is arrogant. He explains that she holds herself to the meaning of her name, excusing others who succumb to their nature, while holding the highest standards for herself. But after a calm talk that ironically adds an air of civility to Dogville, she realizes her father is right. If held to her own standards, these people must die. In Nicole Kidman's eyes, you can see Grace's idealism die, as she thinks over the horror she faced, and must listen to Tom excuse away his own arrogance and nature. Her grace is gone. They are all killed, save the missing dog, who has once again reappeared.
I'm not sure what appeals to me more -- how apt I personally find the journey's end, or how much it leaves open for discussion and argument. Though I love the ending myself, I can see how it might inspire ire in others, which makes it all the greater in my eyes. It's prime fodder for debate, whether about the ways it does or does not reflect America, the distinctions -- or lack thereof -- between upper and lower classes (both of whom have their own moral compass for punishment, and take the deed upon themselves), or simply the ways arrogance manifests.
And then, on an entirely different plane, it works as a pulpy release to a slowly plotted story that makes you want to burst in frustration. Though Grace remains calm in the face of shocking violation, the crescendo of gangsters and violence offers the audience a reward for their journey. This isn't a story where Grace turns into Linda Hamilton a la T2 and earns revenge, yet von Trier manages to give us a slight, and story-relevant taste of revenge and satisfaction. And even that is something to consider. As we cheer on revenge, are we any different than Dogville's residents or the mobsters who kill them?
Unfortunately, the clip is not available in its entirety, unless you watch the full film on YouTube from Lionsgate. But you can watch part of Grace's talk with her father here, and part of her revenge here.