Is it possible to reevaluate a film when you are seeing it for the first time?
Back in 2004, when Dogville was released, I had a few posts about it, including this one, which quoted Charles Taylor at length:
Women are von Trier's select victims. That alone doesn't make him a misogynist. What does make him a misogynist is the sadistic relish he takes in the drawn-out destruction of his female characters, which we see as if watching flies having their wings pulled off under a microscope.
At that point, I had seen two of von Trier's movies, and found myself agreeing with Taylor, enough so that I didn't see another of his pictures for more than a dozen years. The best thing I could say about the movies I'd seen is that they inspired some interesting commentary to my posts.
Then, I saw Melancholia. And I liked it. A lot.
And so I decided to give Dogville a try at long last. After I watched it, I tried to read some criticism that looked at his supposed misogyny in a different light, kinder to von Trier's possible intentions. The most convincing argument was that he didn't mean to make misogyny look good, but rather to show it for the vileness it was.
For half of Dogville's three-hour length, I was almost convinced. I didn't exactly love the movie ... certainly not like I loved Melancholia ... but it was interesting, especially the sets.
But in the second half of the movie, as the town of Dogville turned against Nicole Kidman's Grace, we saw her character raped. And then raped again. And then, while they didn't show every example, she was raped pretty much every night.
And my opinions from back in 2004 returned.
There was an ending that gave Grace the chance to choose her own future. And, during the credits, as Bowie's "Young Americans" played, we got a slideshow of photos by Jacob Holdt depicting lower-class Americans. Apparently, some people took this as anti-American ... some thought the picture itself was anti-American. I didn't understand the use of the photos in the credits, and I didn't get the supposed anti-Americanism. Mostly, I got the feeling the man who made this movie hated everyone, not just Americans.
What can I say? The arguments are old, now, and I don't feel like revisiting them. I watched Dogville, and thought it was on a par with Breaking the Waves and Dancer in the Dark, which is to say I didn't much like it. There is one good thing about Dogville, though ... Jennifer Kent worked on the film. She went on to make The Babadook, which I liked much more than I liked Dogville. #381 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time, and #15 on the 21st-century list.