Abstract Justine in Melancholia (2011). The three character


von Trier is a Danish filmmaker, screenwriter and a co-founder of Dogme 95
movement who is known for his controversial dark, bleak and intense movies. He
created roles for his female characters that featured their excellent
performances: Bess in Breaking the Waves (1996),
Grace in Dogville (2003), and Justine
in Melancholia (2011). The three
character have similarities in the roles that they portrayed. Each of the
characters shows the kindness in their heart but still experience the adversity
of female sacrifice, suffering, and great sadness. This paper will provide the
narrative of movies mentioned above and will analyze the similarities of their
character in Lars von Trier’s movies.

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Lars von Trier, Dogville,
Melancholia, Breaking the Waves, women













Lars von Trier, born on April 30, 1956,
in Copenhagen, Denmark, is a Danish filmmaker, screenwriter, and co-founder of
the Dogme 95 movement, who is known for his dark, bleak and intense movies. He
began making short films at the age of 11 with his mother’s Super 8 camera and
later on attended the National Film School of Denmark, graduating in 1983. Von
Trier began his career with the crime film “The Element of Crime” (1984), the first in the part of ‘Europa’
trilogy and the other films included in the trilogy are “Epidemic” (1987), a metafictional allegory about a plague, and “Europa” (1991), an examination of life
in post-World War II Germany (“Lars von Trier,” n.d.). His works were known for
its depiction of negative aspects of human existence, spiritual allegory,
sacrifice, insanity, and death. Moreover, he created roles for his female
characters that explores controversial issues that represents violence,
sacrifice, and death. This paper will analyze three different female characters
in von Trier’s films: Bess in “Breaking
the Waves” (1996), Grace in “Dogville”
(2003), and Justine in “Melancholia”
(2011). These three female characters have similarities and differences in the
role that they portrayed in von Trier’s films. All these three characters
illustrate the adversity of female sacrifice, suffering, and great sadness, as
they unfold the kindness in their hearts, though they hold opposing views to
which how they end their fate.

in Breaking the Waves

Fig. 1. Bess, played by Emily Watson,
Bess’ condition after she went to the big boat, production still, Breaking the Waves.

the Waves (1996) is a film that gathered numerous award including a
nomination at Academy Award for its female protagonist, Emily Watson. The film tells
the story of Bess (Emily Watson) who sacrifices herself to sexual brutality to
save the man he loves, Jan. Bess is a young innocent woman of childlike, who is
emotionally disturbed and developmentally challenged. She belongs to a
Calvinist community where females are not permitted to speak in the church and
that there were no bells hanging in their church. Bess shows her devotion by
cleaning up at the church and she often speaks with God, in which she prays
loudly and she answers back as a God herself in a deep firm voice. Bess is
newly married to Jan (Stellan Skarsgard), who works on the off-shore oil rig
and when Jan has to go back to the rig to work, Bess became emotionally
disturbed and prayed to God to return Jan back to her. Jan returned but he was
paralyzed due to the accident on the rig. Bess blames herself for Jan’s
accident since she thought that she prayed for it and it was answered by God. As
Jan became paralyzed, their expectation of sexual intimacy had changed, so he
convinces Bess to have sex with other men to keep him alive and then tell the
details to him after. Bess refusing to it at first but decides to fulfill Jan’s
request, as in her thought God had spoken to her and asks her “Who do you want
to save yourself or Jan?” (Helgeland, Jensen, Jönsson & Von Trier, 1996).

Thus, Bess sacrifices herself by giving her body to other men to save Jan. Though
Jan recovers for some time, she one day found out that Jan’s health is
declining, so she told Dodo to “go to Jan and pray for him to be cured and rise
from his bed and walk” (Helgeland, et., 1996). In the end, Bess died when she involved
herself in a more dangerous sexual activity. Meanwhile, Jan’s condition
improved and he was able to rise and walk. Bess had suffered from dangerous
sexual acts and sacrifices her body to save Jan’s life, she showed him kindness
and offers her selfless love, even if it leads to her death. When Bess and Jan
got married, Bess was virgin, she never had anyone before Jan. This explains
that when Bess decided to do such sexual acts, it is not for her benefit, only
for Jan’s salvation. According to Mandolfo, “Bess’ actions are not signs of
corruption, they are signs of steadfast faith and they entail not a defilement of
goodness but an embodiment of goodness” (Mandolfo, 2010). Bess has a strong
faith in God as she endured being cast out than giving up her faith and willing
to suffer for her the ones she loves.

in Dogville

Fig. 2. Grace, played by Nicole Kidman, while
she was dragging a heavy metal that people of Dogville chained to her neck, production
still, Dogville.

(2003) is a story set on a small town in a Rocky Mountain where Grace
(Nicole Kidman), a beautiful and seems to be a mysterious woman, entered Dogville
as a fugitive from the gangsters that was following her. Initially, the people
of Dogville is reluctant to accept and hide Grace, but then Tom (Paul Bettany)
suggested for Grace to help out so that she get their approval for her to stay
in their town. So Grace did, she helped everyone and puts her alabaster hands
to work. Until the people of Dogville, increase the amount of her work since
they think that they are committing a crime by not telling the police that she
is hiding in their town. Despite excessive work she has done, the people of
Dogville, especially the men, covertly threatens her. Just as when Chuck
(Stellan Skarsgard), the apple farmer, rape and threatens her that if she does
not allow him, he will turn her over to police. Grace accepted all the abuse
that the people of Dogville did to her, she sacrifices being men’s sex slave
and worker, in spite of that she still showed them kindness and tolerance.

Grace was treated with no respect and even chained her so that she cannot
escape from their town as if Grace become their prisoner. Until one day, the
gangster that was looking for her arrived, and it happens to be her father. Grace
and her father had a long conversation in which they were arguing about
forgiveness for people of Dogville or retribution. But then Grace decided to
end the abuse and mistreatment of her, she destroyed the town and had each of
people of Dogville killed, as she made them accountable for their wrong deeds
and “for the sake of humanity and for the sake of the human being that was
Grace herself” (Berrie, Brokemper, Børglum & Von Trier, 2003). Grace has
been useful and good to the people of Dogville, she showed them mercy and
selfless love, but then they still exploited her, take advantage of her,
manipulated her actions and made her suffer. Although Grace performed such self-sacrifice,
she still put boundaries between her and people of Dogville in the end.

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