Dancer in the Dark

  • Directors: Lars von Trier
  • Producers:
  • Writers: Lars von Trier
  • Genres: Drama, Music
  • Actors: Catherine Deneuve, Vladica Kostic, David Morse, Cara Seymour, Peter Stormare

The film is set in Washington State in 1964 and focuses on Selma Ježková (Björk), a Czech immigrant who has moved to the United States with her son, Gene Ježek (Kostic). They live a life of poverty as Selma works at a factory with her good friend Kathy, who she nicknames Cvalda (Deneuve). She rents a trailer home on the property of town policeman Bill Houston (Morse) and his wife Linda Houston (Seymour). She is also pursued by the shy but persistent Jeff (Stormare) who also works at the factory.

What no one in Selma’s life knows is that she has a hereditary degenerative disease which is gradually causing her to go blind. She has been saving up every penny that she makes (in a tin can in her kitchen) to pay for an operation which will prevent her young son from suffering the same fate.

To escape the misery of her daily life Selma accompanies Cvalda to the local cinema where together they watch fabulous Hollywood musicals (or more accurately, Selma listens as Cvalda describes them to her, to the aggravation of the other theater patrons, or acts out the dance steps upon Selma’s hand using her fingers). In her day-to-day life, when things are too boring or upsetting, Selma slips into daydreams or perhaps a trance-like state where she imagines the ordinary circumstances and individuals around her have erupted into elaborate musical theater numbers. These songs, as do many of Björk’s songs, use some sort of real life noise (from factory machines buzzing to the sound of a flag rapping against a flag pole in the wind) as an underlying rhythm.

Cvalda and Jeff eventually put the pieces of the puzzle together and get back Selma’s money, using it instead to pay for a trial lawyer who can free her. Selma becomes furious and refuses the lawyer, opting to face the death penalty rather than letting her son go blind. In the end Selma is hanged, after finding out that the operation went through and that Gene will see. Selma sings the final song of the movie on the gallows with no musical accompaniment, and after her death, a curtain is drawn in front of her body.

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