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Lars Von Trier
The Concept of Good in Trier's Films
If you have never watched Trier films, you are likely to get extremely confused by the subject matter or purpose of a film like Breaking the Waves. This is because the film is deceptively simply where story is concerned but it explores so many contentious issues and highlights such deeply buried controversies that one wonders why the movie was made at all. What exactly was the purpose of making such a movie? But if you are familiar with Trier's past films, you are in a better position to answer that question because then, you might be well aware of the fact that Lars Von Trier just loves making movies, which are different to the extent of becoming eccentric.
Most of his work is smugly different and since the Nouvelle Vogue techniques of filmmaking are used, not everyone is likely to fall in love with it. But one thing is certain, you cannot forget his movies too easily not because of the story itself, but mostly because of its disturbing contents and the issues it makes you think about. How many time would a viewer come out of the cinema with one million questions in his mind, each of which appears to have no obvious answer. That is what happens with Trier films; and with Breaking the waves, you can simply double the number of questions it will leave you with. Why did Bess do what she did? Was she really a good woman? Was she truly in love with her husband? Did her husband respect her or did her simply use her for his own pleasures? And the list goes on.
In this paper, we shall deal with only one of those questions and the answer might help resolve other issues as well. We shall now discuss the theory of 'good' as presented by the director and see if Bess was indeed a good person in religious, moral and social sense.
In the epilogue of the movie, the director makes it easier for us to study his film from this aspect when the coroner asks Dr. Richardson to cite one cause of Bess death. First the coroner studies the body and relates the diagnosis details that had been given to him. He says, "You have described the deceased as 'an immature, unstable person. A person, who, due to the trauma of her husband's illness, gave way in obsessive fashion to an exaggerated, perverse form of sexuality." This is an important statement, which must be borne in mind for later discussion. To this diagnosis, Dr. Richardson replies,.".. If you asked me now, instead of 'neurotic' or 'psychotic', my diagnosis might quite simply be... 'good'." This helps to make the basic idea of the film clearer. "You wish the records... To state that from the medical point-of-view the deceased was suffering from being 'good'? Perhaps this is the psychological defect that led to her death? Is that what we shall write"
These dialogues help to explain a lot. For one it shows that an average viewer would be tempted to dismiss the character of Bess as a neurotic sex-starved psychopath. However this would be absolutely cruel to the character, the film and the filmmaker to discard this important figure so easily. Instead the director wants us to go a little deeper than this and study this character from the viewpoint of 'good'. What exactly constitutes good in the society and religion? Can there be more than one definitions of a good person. How would we categorize someone who is doing something horrible just to please a dying person? These are the questions put forth by the director in this movie.
It is due to this epilogue that we are likely to re-examine Bess' character to see if she was really a good person or simply a social misfit. My answer to the question is that the real cause of her death was indeed her desire to be good. Once that is established, we shall go on to prove why this answers contains weight. Bess grew up in a society, which frowned about women who dared to be different. In this strictly devout Christian community, every woman is expected to be demure and respectful. They are not allowed to compete with men and are absolutely not seen as equals. They are more acceptable in the roles of wives and daughter than mistresses or prostitutes. Bess is expected to become a good…[continue]
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