Running Time: 177 mins
Lars Von Trier seems fascinated by moral and religious themes. So much of his imagery and his references are biblical. It has been easy to see his persecuted woman, Emily Watson in Breaking the Waves and Bjork in Dancer in the Dark, as martyrs, whose sufferings bring healing to men. Von Trier sets them up as redemptive Christ-figures.
As we share the experiences of Grace (and her doubting Thomas) in the community of Dogville, we trace the pattern of the Gospel: like Jesus coming into a lowly world, accepted despite suspicions, serving rather than being served, turned against and given her own passion. As the three hours running time pass, we seem to be being led in a most positive way. It is the way of forgiveness no matter what the offence - and, finally, Grace becomes the victim of women and children's malice and men's lusts.
This would have been so simple. We might have been using Dogville in years to come for seminars on grace. But, there is the enormous 180 degree turn in the final chapter of the film. When the unseen gangster finally arrives, we might surmise he represents the devil. But, then we see him, and discover that the Godfather might be God the Father and von Trier is challenging us to think again about John 3 where God so loves the world...
It seems that in this US world, God so hated it that he sent his daughter to destroy it. If there is to be no more deluge, then 2 Peter says that the next destruction is by fire. And, in Dogville, so it is. With David Bowie singing about America's young over the final credits and the devastating collage of American photos, we are sent out of the cinema questioning the good and the evil in human nature and whether there can be any hope.
Fr Peter Malone MSC is the International President of SIGNIS: the World Association for Catholic Communications and an Associate of the Australian Catholic Film Office.