Episode 217

(11 Nov, 2011)

Kartina Richardson on Lars von Trier

Transcript for Kartina Richardson on Lars von Trier

KARTINA RICHARDSON:

Lars von Trier has a talent for upsetting people.  Whether he’s creating a stir at Cannes:
 
Designing a new manifesto for filmmaking:
 
Or commenting on American racism,
 
Lars courts controversy. But hard as he might try to cultivate a scandalous persona, Von Trier has a tremendous empathy for human beings. This empathy is reflected in three of his most moving films: The Idiots, Breaking the Waves, and Dancer in the Dark. Together these films make up his “Golden Heart Trilogy”: In each film the heroine maintains her innocence and optimism, or golden heart, despite repeated trauma. In 1996’s “Breaking the Waves,” Emily Watson plays Bess McNeill.
Bess falls in love with Jan, Norwegian oil rig worker and marries him despite the wishes of her church and family. After a few days of wedded bliss, Jan returns to the oil rig. Madly in love, and high off the newly discovered joys of sex, Bess prays for Jan’s return, but the next day Jan is badly injured in an accident. 
 
Paralyzed, unable to perform sexually, and mentally impaired, Jan urges Bess to sleep with other men and report back to him with the sordid details. Bess reluctantly agrees. She sacrifices herself, body and soul, for Jan’s happiness. In 1998‘s The Idiots, a group of friends attempt to unleash their “inner idiot” by pretending to be mentally disabled. They call this “spassing”:
 
Spassing, they believe, will lead to freedom from their inner inhibitions. During one of their spassing outings, the group is observed by Karen played by Bodil Jorgensen, who immediately runs away with them and takes up the spassing banner:
 
When the group’s leader suggests that occasional spassing is not enough to reach freedom and that ‘idiocy’ must invade their daily lives, only Karen agrees. Accompanied by another member of the group, she returns to her home where it’s revealed that Karen had been missing for two weeks following the death of her baby. Desperate to be free from the anguish we now know the cause of, she begins to spass:
 
2001‘s “Dancer in the Dark” also explores the frenzy a mother feels when she’s unable to protect her child. The film stars Bjork as Selma, a Czech immigrant suffering from a hereditary disease that causes blindness. Selma works in a factory and saves every single penny to pay for a surgery that will prevent her son from facing a similar fate. The only escape from this daily stress is her love for bright and happy Hollywood musicals. 
 
A love that leads to elaborate daydreams.
 
 But life is not as MGM would like us to believe, and Selma’s money is stolen by her friend Bill: 
 
Desperate to save her son from eventual blindness, Selma has only one choice:
 
Selma is arrested, put on trial, and sentenced to death. Though these movies do have the potential to depress the hell out of us, Bess, Karen and Selma couldn’t have felt such an overwhelming sense of loss without first allowing themselves to experience great love and not everyone can do that. Yes, their vulnerability left them open to cruelty, but that same lack of self-defense also allowed them to access the heights of joy and happiness, that maybe those of us with greater self-defenses can’t reach. Despite all of their misfortunes, their faith in life’s potential for great beauty and goodness is never shaken. They maintain their Golden Hearts to the very, very end.