Sunday, October 5, 2014

STRIKING: a short look at the lighting of Lars Von Trier's Dogville

After the excruciating yet brilliant credits finished rolling, many thoughts were swirling through my head regarding Lars Von Trier's genius depiction of small-town depression-era American culture, otherwise known as Dogville.

After Grace, a rich, city-girl runaway, comes across a town with a population of around 20 men, women, and children, she attempts to settle in, make friends and prove her worth. Things seem to be going swell at first as she finds work, acquires a home and begins to become one of the "citizens of Dogville." However, Dogville bares its teeth and Grace attempts to flee, only to be returned and punished. Her punishment? Calling up the mobsters who she ran away from in the first place and letting them know where she ended up. In return, the town is punished, but not as gracefully as Grace. With the help of her powerful father, she decides to burn down the town and kill all the citizens. The end.

Outside of the film's fantastic story, it also boasts many interesting choices regarding the film's aesthetics. It was tough to choose one element to focus on but out of everything, the film's bold, powerful lighting stuck out to me. Through lighting, Trier is able to convey both physical light sources as well as emotional aspects for certain characters, sets and moments.
First, the sources. Throughout the film, Trier puts his soundstage setting to fantastic use by using lights to establish setting. Walls of white light trap the town to simulate daytime. Blueish-gray lights stream down from the sky to act as moonlight. The only physical lights we get are street lamps or candles, but they aren't used too often.
One of the most interesting light sources is used in the scene where Grace opens Mr. McKay's blocked-off window. It is one of the only instances where we get a light source that doesn't feel artificial or part of the cookie-cutter world Trier has created. This is used to create a feeling of remembrance for Mr. McKay in which times were better and he could actually see what lies in front of him. There are many instances in the film where light is used to enhance or bring out some sort of emotion. Leading right into my next point...

The emotions. By far one of the best examples of the use of emotions through lighting has gotta be the final scene in which "some light is shed on Dogville." This is an incredible moment where the lighting is used to bring out the harshness and cruelness that Dogville was to Grace. There are many other moments throughout the film where lighting is used to highlight a character's feeling.

Both the sources and the emotions are brought out in the film. They are both used as tools to further enhance the space as well as the characters. In terms of an aesthetic, the film certainly couldn't do without the lighting. Especially for a film like Dogville, which needs abstract elements such as lights not only to enhance emotions, but also to dictate where we are and give us a stronger sense of space. To put it simply, the lighting in this movie is awesome.

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