Dancer in the Dark review by Roman Wippel

The Musical Defense

If you know anything about Lars von Trier, a Danish film screenwriter and director, it is safe to say that his 2000 melodrama musical film Dancer in the Dark is planned and executed through the dialogue, plot, cinematography, character, and music.
The film stars Bjork, who plays a Selma, an immigrant from Czechoslovakia working in a factory in the United States. She befriends Kathy, played by Catherine Deneuve, who learns her secret that she is going blind. The plot takes an unfortunate twist when Selma’s landlord and police deputy Bill, played by David Morse, consoles her while she helps talk him through his own struggles with his wife, Linda, played by Cara Seymour, who is materialistic, spending their money, and threatening to cause Bill to lose all that he has worked for. At the moment he shows sympathy. Selma shares a secret with Bill about her blindness and her savings for her son’s eye operation. Left with no other alternative, Bill creates a plan to steal Selma’s savings without her knowing to save himself from his financial crisis.
One evening after Selma and Bill are finished talking, Selma tells Bill goodbye and stashes her earned salary in a tin box hidden behind an iron board unbeknownst to her that Bill has not left the house, watching her stash her savings. The following day, Selma’s fired from her job for breaking a machine from a prior shift and is given her remaining salary. She finds all her money missing and runs to Bill to report the crime but learns that Bill has brought his savings box with full of money home. Connecting their conversation days before with a savings box full of cash, Selma confronts Bill of his crime. Bill tells her that the only way she will ever get the money back is by killing him. After killing Bill and taking her money back, Selma deposits her savings for her son’s surgery at the hospital to keep from the police. She is brought to trial and found guilty of the murder under first degree and sentenced to death by hanging.
Through all of Selma’s ordeal, her only concern was to give her son the opportunity at life. Many critics found the film to be silly and outright unrealistic with the musical aspect. However, I beg to differ. The film is not one bit silly because of its varying styles of cinematography or its unorthodox musical numbers. If anything, these choices only make it more provocative, tear jerking, and heart-wrenching.
Dancer in the Dark cleverly incorporates music as a drawback from the scene to communicate Selma’s thoughts and the way she perceives the world around her. The scene at the train tracks with Selma dancing on the train signifies her independence from her steadily growing blindness and her imagination to be a famous Hollywood movie star. The minor drawbacks that Selma experiences are designed to amplify her struggle to be a movie star yet is unable because of her blindness. After the dancing scene, the audience is drawn back to the reality overseeing her feeling her way on the train tracks as she heads home.
The audience encounters several more musical scenes like the train scene such as murder scene at Bill’s home. After she shoots him aimlessly several times, Bill stands up as if he rose from the dead and dances with Selma. At first, the audience might be forced to sneer at how foolish and illogical the scene is. However, I would disagree again, considering the artistic style of the film. The musical dance scene was designed to justify the murder by Selma. Her asking for forgiveness from Bill and blaming his materialistic wife for his death is a profound scene of a human soul finding comfort for just having taken a life if another human being. Bill’s spirit encourages Selma to run before the police arrive.
The musical aspect is a vital one, despite some critics feeling it is childish and silly. Lars von Trier captured the stories of protagonist and antagonist in their unique atmosphere like a novelist does with his unique character physical and personality characteristics. Protagonists, Selma and Bill lose their lives for their own reasons, but ultimately by the hands of the antagonist, Lina.

4 thoughts on “Dancer in the Dark review by Roman Wippel”

  1. I agree that her only concern was to give her son an opportunity for a life that she couldn’t have. Selma, or Björk, knew from experience the struggle that she had to go through to make a life even though struggling with going blind. Therefore, I think it was so important for her to have a love for musicals or music alone. Music or sound acted as her eyes in parts of the film such as when she was walking home from work and the train was coming. Although she wasn’t familiar with walking home in that time, using her sense of sound allowed her to walk safely down the tracks.


  2. Katelynn, I absolutely agree with you about Bill taking advantage of a financially poor and blind mother in the unforgiving world. At the scene when Selma is forced to take Bill’s life, my emotions were split. I was happy for Selma for killing Bill and getting her money back, while at the same time angry at the fact that it had to go as far as suicide via homicide. Weighing both together, I feel more sympathy and guilt for Selma, versus Bill. Allowing himself to be murdered to escape his life problems only shows cowardliness and weakness. Selma, who we expect to be weaker because of her condition and carefree attitude about her life as she daydreams for the majority of day proved otherwise as strong, independent and no-nonsense type of mother.


  3. Kate: I concur with you on the point her solitary concern was to give her child an open door for an actual existence that she couldn’t have. Selma, or Björk, knew as a matter of fact the battle that she needed to experience to make an actual existence despite the fact that battling with going visually impaired. Accordingly, I think it was so critical for her to have an adoration for musicals or music alone. Music or sound went about as her eyes in parts of the film, for example, when she was strolling home from work and the train was coming. In spite of the fact that she wasn’t acquainted with strolling home in that time, utilizing her feeling of sound enabled her to walk securely down the tracks.

    Roman: I additionally concur with you about Bill exploiting a fiscally poor and visually impaired mother in the unforgiving scene. At the scene when Selma is compelled to end Bill’s life, my feelings were part. I was cheerful for Selma for killing Bill and recovering her cash, while in the meantime irate at the way that it needed to go similarly as suicide through murder. Weighing both together, I feel more sensitivity and blame for Selma, versus Bill. Enabling himself to be killed to get away from his life issues just shows cowardliness and shortcoming. Selma, who we hope to be weaker in view of her condition and lighthearted state of mind about her life as she fantasizes for the dominant part of day demonstrated generally as solid, free and straightforward kind of mother.


  4. I think this review is more of a plot summary than anything. You sped seventy five percent of the paper talking about what happens in the film and twenty five percent talking about what you thought about the film.
    I would say I disagree with this review. I do not think the musical aspect of the film contributed to the overall message or quality of the film. I do not think that anybody in the situation of these characters would be singing and or dancing. The idea that a police officer would steal from somebody in the way he did is just not believable. I find this story to be more a fairy tale if anything.


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