Dogville: An Anti-Gospel

by Michael Potemra

I saw the new movie Dogville last night. Nicole Kidman plays the significantly named Grace, a woman with a mysterious past who is harbored by the residents of a small town named Dogville. The bare, alienating sets—featuring chalk outlines for streets and houses—make clear from the outset that we’re in the realm of allegory. But in the last of the film’s three hours, director Lars von Trier shows that what he has been setting up all along is not the conventional Christ-figure story, but an amazing theological thought-experiment: What if the Christ-figure, finally, says no? One of the most frequent criticisms of Mel Gibson’s Passion is that it is rich in detail but short on meaning and reflection. Dogville focuses on the nature of sin and justice, on what we’re left with if there is no redemption—and thus offers an answer to those who want to understand, more explicitly, the theological meaning of the events described in The Passion. Dogville is an unpleasant, severe, and disturbing picture of the fallen human condition. Its allegorical depiction of the God of the Hebrew Scriptures, as embodying justice as opposed to mercy, is traditional but not accurate; this is a profound film nonetheless. There are very few people who will like this film, and I’m certainly not making a blanket recommendation of it; but its achievement is real.

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