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Dogville is a 2003 philosophical drama and mystery film written and directed by Lars von Trier, and starring Nicole Kidman, Paul Bettany, Lauren Bacall, Chloë Sevigny, Stellan Skarsgård and James Caan. It is a parable that uses an extremely minimal, stage-like set to tell the story of Grace Mulligan (Kidman), a woman hiding from mobsters, who arrives in the small mountain town of Dogville and is provided refuge in return for physical labor. Her stay there ultimately changes the lives of the community in many ways.The film is the first in Von Trier's projected USA - Land of Opportunities trilogy, followed by Manderlay (2005) and to be completed with Wasington.

The film was in competition for the Palme d'Or at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival but Gus Van Sant's Elephant won the award. It was screened at various film festivals before receiving a limited release in the US on March 26, 2004.


Dogville: The Pilot was shot during 2001 in the pre-production phase to test whether the concept of chalk lines and spare scenery would work. The fifteen-minute pilot film starred Danishmarker actors Sidse Babett Knudsen (as Grace) and Nikolaj Lie Kaas (as Tom). Eventually Lars von Trier was happy with the overall results. As a result, he and the producers decided to move forward with the production of the feature film. It is featured on the second disc of the Dogville (2003) DVD, released in November of 2003.


The story of Dogville is narrated by John Hurt in nine chapters and takes place on a stage with minimalist scenery. Some walls and furniture are placed on the stage, but the rest of the scenery exists merely as white painted outlines which have big labels on them; for example, the outlines of gooseberry bushes have the text "Gooseberry Bushes" written next to them. While this form of staging is common in black box theaters, it has rarely been attempted on film before (the 1954 musical Western Red Garters and the 1994 film Vanya on 42nd Street being notable exceptions). The bare staging serves to focus the audience's attention on the acting and storytelling, and also reminds them of the film's artificiality. As such it is heavily influenced by the theatre of Bertolt Brecht (there are also similarities between the song Seeräuberjenny [Pirate Jenny] in Brecht and Kurt Weill's Die Dreigroschenoper [The Threepenny Opera] and the story of Dogville. Chico Buarque's version of this song, Geni e o Zepelim [Geni and the Zeppelin], deals with the more erotic aspects of abjection and bears striking similarity to Lars von Trier's cinematic homage to the song.) The film does however employ carefully designed lighting to suggest natural effects such as the moving shadows of clouds, and sound effects are used to create the presence of non-existent set pieces (i.e. there are no doors, but the doors can always be heard when an actor "opens" or "closes" one).

The movie was shot on high-definition video using a Sony HDW-F900 camera in a studio in Trollhättanmarker, Swedenmarker.

The story of Dogville is given in 9 chapters and a prologue, with a description of each chapter given as it takes place in the film. These descriptions are given below.

Plot structure


Dogville is a very small Americanmarker town in the Rocky Mountains with a road leading up to it, but nowhere to go but the mountains. The film begins with a prologue in which we meet a dozen or so of the fifteen citizens. They are portrayed as lovable, good people with small flaws which are easy to forgive.

The town is seen from the point of view of Tom Edison Jr. (Paul Bettany), an aspiring writer who procrastinates by trying to get his fellow citizens together for regular meetings on the subject of "moral rearmament." It is clear that Tom wants to succeed his aging father, a physician, as the moral and spiritual leader of the town.

Chapter 1

In which Tom hears gunfire and meets Grace
It is Tom who first meets Grace (Nicole Kidman), who is on the run from gangsters who we are led to believe shot at her. Grace, a beautiful but modest woman, wants to keep running, but Tom assures her that the mountains ahead are too difficult to pass. As they talk, the gangsters approach the town, and Tom quickly hides Grace in a nearby mine. One of the gangsters asks Tom if he has seen the woman, which he denies, and so the gangster offers him a reward and hands him a card with a phone number to call in case Grace shows up.

Tom decides to use Grace as an "illustration" in his next meeting - a way for the townspeople to prove that they are indeed committed to community values, can receive a gift, and are willing to help the stranger. They remain skeptical, so Tom proposes that Grace should be given a chance to prove that she is a good person. Grace is accepted for two weeks in which, as Tom explains to her after the meeting, she has to convince the townspeople to like her.

Chapter 2

In which Grace follows Tom's plan and embarks upon physical labour

On Tom's suggestion, Grace offers to do chores for the citizens - talking to the lonely, blind Jack McCay (Ben Gazzara), helping to run the small shop, looking after the children of Chuck (Stellan Skarsgård) and Vera (Patricia Clarkson), and so forth. After some initial reluctance, the people accept her help in doing those chores that "nobody really needs" but which nevertheless make life better, and so she becomes a part of the community.

Chapter 3

In which Grace indulges in a shady piece of provocation.
In tacit agreement, she is expected to continue her chores, which she does gladly, and is even paid small wages in return. Grace begins to make friends, including Jack, who pretends that he is not blind. Grace tricks him into admitting that he is blind, earning his respect. After the two weeks are over, everyone votes that she should be allowed to stay.

Chapter 4

Happy times in Dogville
But when the police arrive to place a "Missing" poster with Grace's picture and name on it on the mission house, the mood darkens slightly. Should they not cooperate with the police?

Chapter 5

Fourth of July after all

Still, things continue as usual until the 4th of July celebrations. After Tom awkwardly admits his love to Grace and the whole town expresses their agreement that it has become a better place thanks to her, the police arrive again to replace the "Missing" poster with a "Wanted" poster. Grace is now wanted for participation in a bank robbery. Everyone agrees that she must be innocent, since at the time the robbery took place, she was doing chores for the townspeople every day.

Nevertheless, Tom argues that because of the increased risk to the town now that they are harboring someone who is wanted as a criminal, Grace should provide a quid pro quo and do more chores for the townspeople within the same time, for less pay. At this point, what was previously a voluntary arrangement takes on a slightly coercive nature as Grace is clearly uncomfortable with the idea. Still, being very amenable and wanting to please Tom, Grace agrees.

Chapter 6

In which Dogville bares its teeth

At this point the situation worsens, as with her additional workload, Grace inevitably makes mistakes, and the people she works for seem to be equally irritated by the new schedule – and take it out on Grace. The situation slowly escalates, with the male citizens making small sexual advances to Grace and the female ones becoming increasingly abusive. Even the children are perverse: Jason (Miles Purinton), the perhaps 10-year-old son of Chuck and Vera, asks Grace to spank him, until she finally complies after much provocation. Soon thereafter the police, believing they have found a clue that Grace is in the town, discuss this with some of the residents on the street. Chuck returns to his house, where Grace is hiding, and rapes her while threatening to turn her in if she resists. The police leave after being told the clue did not come from Grace, but it has become obvious that she is hardly able to defend herself against exploitation.

Chapter 7

In which Grace finally gets enough of Dogville, leaves the town, and again sees the light of day.
After Tom discusses the possibility of escape with her, Grace is blamed by Vera both for spanking Jason and for being raped by Chuck. In revenge, Vera threatens Grace with destroying the porcelain figurines created by the town shop that she had acquired with the little wages she was given, Grace begs for mercy, reminding Vera of how she taught her children about stoicism. In response, Vera challenges Grace to stand up without shedding a tear while she destroys the first two of the porcelain figurines. Grace not being able to hold her tears, Vera destroys the remaining figurines. The symbol of her belonging in the town gone, she now knows that she must leave. With the help of Tom and Ben, the freight driver, she attempts escape in his apple truck, only to find herself raped by Ben in the back of the truck and then returned to the town.

The town agrees that they must not let her escape again. The money that she used to pay Ben had been taken by Tom from his father, and Grace is blamed for the theft. Tom refuses to come forward because, he explains, this is the only way he can still protect Grace without people getting suspicious. At this point, Grace's status as slave is finally confirmed as she is collared and chained to a large iron wheel which she must drag around with her, too heavy to allow her to move anywhere outside the town. More humiliatingly still, a bell is attached to her collar and announces her presence wherever she goes. Tom is the only male citizen of the town that does not rape her, while the others do so on an almost daily basis.

Chapter 8

In which there is a meeting where the truth is told and Tom leaves (only to return later).

This culminates in a late night general assembly in which Grace —following Tom's suggestion— relates calmly all that she has endured from everyone in town. Embarrassed and in complete denial, the townspeople finally decide to get rid of her. When Tom informs Grace to console her, he attempts to make love to her, having been the only adult male townperson who hasn't had sex with her. Grace, however, refuses to have sex with him. Angry partly at Grace's rejection, but even more at himself for his realization that he would eventually stoop to force himself upon her like everyone else in the town, Tom ends up personally calling the mobsters, and later proposes to unanimous approval that she be locked up in her shack.

Chapter 9 and ending

In which Dogville receives the long-awaited visit and the film ends

When the mobsters finally arrive, they are welcomed cordially by Tom and an impromptu committee of other townspeople. Grace is then freed, and we finally learn who she really is: the daughter of a powerful gang leader who ran away because she could not stand her father's dirty work. Her father confronts her in his Cadillac Series 355C and tells her that she is arrogant for not holding others to the same high standards to which she holds herself. At first she refuses to listen, but as she leaves the car and contemplates the discussion she has just had with her father, she looks again upon the town and its people, and is compelled to agree: she would have to condemn them to the worst possible punishment if she held them to her own standards, and it would be inhumane not to do so.

So she accepts her role as her father's daughter, and immediately demands that the whole town be eliminated. In particular, she gives the order to have Vera look on at the murder of each of her children, having been told that the killings would stop if she can hold back her tears. The film ends in a crescendo of violence. The town is burned and all its citizens are brutally murdered by the gangsters on direct order from Grace, with the exception of Tom, whom she kills personally with a revolver. As the ashes of Dogville smolder around her, she finds and spares the only surviving resident, Moses the Dogville dog. Ironically, the only "dog" that hasn't wronged her was the town dog that had disappeared while the town was revealing its true nature.


The film is set in the 1930s, and the small dead-end town of Dogville can be a symbol for any similar town in the United Statesmarker. As the fifteen adult citizens and six children of Dogville are introduced to Grace, they are put to a moral test: Are they willing to save a woman on the run who might be a criminal, and to potentially risk their own lives for her while receiving little more than kindness in return? Grace too, is finally confronted with a test: when faced with cruelty from the people of Dogville, can she forgive them, or will she seek revenge?

Ebert and Roeper criticized Dogville of having a strongly anti-American message, citing, for example, the closing credits sequence with images of poverty-stricken Americans (taken from Jacob Holdt's documentary book American Pictures, 1984) accompanied by David Bowie's song "Young Americans." In 2009 American director Quentin Tarantino named the film as one of his top 20 films that have been made since he has been directing.

According to von Trier, the point of the film is that "evil can arise anywhere, as long as the situation is right." In fact, far from being anti-American, the film demolishes the politically correct discourse pretending that evil is proper to the powerful and rich, whereas the humble and poor are generous and kindhearted, for in the film even children come to act with cruelty to other persons merely because they can and enjoy it.

Box office results

The film grossed $1,535,286 in the US market and $15,145,550 from the rest of the world for a total gross of $16,680,836 world wide. In the opening US weekend it did poorly only grossing $88,855. However the movie was only released in 9 cinemas with an average of $9,872 per cinema. In Denmark the film grossed $1,231,984. The highest grossing territory was Italy with a gross of $3,272,119.




  1. Dogville: The Pilot on IMDB
  2. Marit Kapla: Our Town. Filmmaker Magazine, June 11, 2002.
  3. BBC Stoke & Staffordshire Films - Dogville Review by BBC
  4. 'Dogville': It Fakes a Village by A. O. Scott, March 21, 2004, New York Times
  5. Dogville, review by Jeffrey Overstreet, Christianity Today
  6. Dogville , by Roger Ebert

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