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This article is about 2003 film. For Dogville comedy films, see Dogville Comedies. For things named Dogtown, see Dogtown (disambiguation).
Dogville poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Lars von Trier
Produced by Vibeke Windeløv
Written by Lars von Trier
Starring Nicole Kidman
Lauren Bacall
Chloë Sevigny
Paul Bettany
Stellan Skarsgård
Udo Kier
Ben Gazzara
James Caan
Patricia Clarkson
Narrated by John Hurt
Cinematography Anthony Dod Mantle
Edited by Molly Marlene Stensgård
Distributed by Lions Gate Entertainment
Release dates
  • 19 May 2003 (2003-05-19) (Cannes)
Running time
178 minutes[1]
Country Denmark
Language English
Budget $10 million
Box office $16,680,836

Dogville is a 2003 Danish avant-garde drama film written and directed by Lars von Trier, and starring Nicole Kidman, Lauren Bacall, Chloë Sevigny, Paul Bettany, Stellan Skarsgård, Udo Kier, Ben Gazzara 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, Colorado, and is provided refuge in return for physical labor. Because she has to win and retain the acceptance of every single one of the inhabitants of the town to be allowed to stay, any attempt by her to have her own way or to put a limit on her service risks driving her back out into the arms of the criminals. Although she has no power in herself, her stay there ultimately changes the lives of the local people and the town in many ways.

The film is the first in von Trier's projected USA – Land of Opportunities trilogy, which was followed by Manderlay (2005) and is projected to be completed with Washington. The film was in competition for the Palme d'Or at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival[2] 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.

Since its release, critics' reception for Dogville has been polarized. Some have branded it as pretentious or incomprehensible, while others have labeled it a masterpiece. As part of the 2012 Sight & Sound polls, six critics and three directors named it one of the best films ever made.[3]

Plot structure[edit]

The story of Dogville is told in nine chapters and a prologue, with a one-sentence description of each chapter given in the film, in the vein of such chapter headings in many 19th century novels. These descriptions are given below.


Dogville is a very small American town by an abandoned silver mine in the Rocky Mountains, with a road leading up to it and nowhere else to go but the mountains. The film begins with a prologue in which a dozen or so of the fifteen citizens are introduced. 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., 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[edit]

In which Tom hears gunfire and meets Grace

It is Tom who first meets Grace Mulligan, who is on the run from gangsters who presumably shot at her. Grace, a beautiful but modest woman, wishes 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 the nearby mine. One of the gangsters asks Tom if he has seen the woman, which he denies. The gangster then 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 must gain the friendship and trust of the townspeople.

Chapter 2[edit]

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

On Tom's suggestion, Grace offers to do chores for the citizens—talking to the lonely, blind Jack McKay, helping to run the small shop, looking after the children of Chuck and Vera, and so forth. After some initial reluctance, the people accept her help in doing those chores that "nobody really needs" but which nevertheless make their lives easier. As a result, she becomes an accepted part of the community.

Chapter 3[edit]

In which Grace indulges in a shady piece of provocation.

In tacit agreement Grace is expected to continue her chores, which she does gladly, and is even paid small wages which she saves up to purchase a set of seven expensive porcelain figurines, one at a time, from Ma Ginger's shop. Grace begins to make friends, including Jack, who pretends that he is not blind. She earns his respect upon tricking him into admitting that he is blind. Once the two weeks are over, everyone votes at the town meeting that Grace should be allowed to stay.

Chapter 4[edit]

Happy times in Dogville

Things go well in Dogville until the police arrive to place a "Missing" poster featuring Grace's picture and name on the mission house. With the townspeople are divided as to whether they should cooperate with the police, the mood of the community darkens somewhat.

Chapter 5[edit]

Fourth of July after all

Still, things continue as usual until the 4th of July celebrations. After Tom awkwardly admits his love to Grace which she reciprocates 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[edit]

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 females becoming increasingly abusive. Even the children are perverse: Jason, the 10-year-old son of Chuck and Vera, asks Grace to spank him, until she finally complies after much provocation (von Trier has noted that this is the first point in the film where it is clear how completely Grace's lack of social status and choices makes her vulnerable to other people manipulating her).[4] The sexual advances to Grace finally reach a turning point as well when Chuck rapes her in his home.

Chapter 7[edit]

In which Grace finally has had enough of Dogville, conspires to leave town, and again sees the light of day.

That evening, Grace tells Tom what had happened and he starts to form a plan for her escape. The next day, Vera confronts Grace for spanking her son Jason and Liz informs her that a few people saw Tom leave her shack very late the night before, casting suspicions on her virtue. The next evening she is confronted again by Vera, Liz and Martha in her shack. Martha witnessed a sexual encounter between Chuck and her in the apple orchard. Vera blames her for seducing her husband and decides to punish Grace by destroying the figurines. Grace begs her to spare them and tries to remind Vera of all the good thing she has done for her including teaching her children the philosophy of stoicism. Vera cruelly uses it against her while destroying the figurines she worked hard for. Grace goes to Tom that evening and they decide to bribe the freight truck driver Ben to smuggle her out of town in his truck. En route, she is raped by Ben, after which the truck lumbers only to return Grace to Dogville.

The town agrees that they must not let her escape again. The money paid to Ben to help Grace escape had been stolen by Tom from his father—but when Grace is blamed for the theft, Tom refuses to admit he did it because, as he explains, this is the only way he can still protect Grace without people getting suspicious. So Grace finally becomes a slave: she is repeatedly raped and abused by the people of the town. She is also humiliated by the children who ring the church bell every time she is violated much to Tom's disgust.

Chapter 8[edit]

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 then heads back to her shack. Embarrassed and in complete denial, the townspeople finally decide to get rid of her. As Tom tells Grace this, he summons up the courage to finally attempt to make love with her. She mocks him that he'd been a coward to his baser human instincts all along despite wanting her and taunts him that all he had to do was threaten her to get his way like the others did. Tom defends his intentions genuine and just but realizes she had revealed that he's been using reason and morality as self-deception. Shaken by self-doubt, he concludes it would jeopardize his career as a philosopher if it were allowed to grow. To rid himself of its source, he decides to personally call the mobsters and turn her over.

Chapter 9 and ending[edit]

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 by the indignant henchmen, 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 motions her into his Cadillac and argues with her about issues of morality. After some introspection, Grace reverses herself and comes to the conclusion that Dogville's crimes cannot be excused due to the difficulty of their circumstances. Tom, who has become aware that the mobsters pose a threat to himself and the town, is momentarily remorseful, but rapidly descends into rationalization for his actions. Grace returns, sadly, to her father's car, accepts his power, and uses it to command that Dogville be removed from the earth.

The town is destroyed, all its citizens are murdered by the gangsters on direct order from Grace, with the exception of Tom, whom she executes personally with a revolver right after he applauds the effectiveness of her use of illustration. After the massacre, the gangsters hear a barking sound from one of the houses. It is the dog Moses. A gangster aims a gun at the dog, but Grace commands that it should live: 'He's just angry because I once took his bone'.



Dogville: The Pilot was shot during 2001 in the pre-production phase to test whether the concept of chalk lines and sparse scenery would work. The 15-minute pilot film starred Danish 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. The test pilot was never shown in public, but is featured on the second disc of the Dogville (2003) DVD, released in November 2003.[5]


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 Western musical Red Garters (1954) and Vanya on 42nd Street (1994) 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.[6] 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 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 (e.g., there are no doors, but the doors can always be heard when an actor "opens" or "closes" one).

The film was shot on high-definition video using a Sony HDW-F900 camera in a studio in Trollhättan, Sweden.


Ebert and Roeper criticized Dogville as 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".[7] In 2009, American director Quentin Tarantino named the film as one of his personal top 20 pick among films made during the time of his active career as a director.[8] He also said that had the film been written for the stage, von Trier would have won a Pulitzer Prize.[9]

According to von Trier, the point of the film is that "evil can arise anywhere, as long as the situation is right".[10]



The film garnered acclaim from several publications and holds a "fresh" rating of 70% on the film review website Rotten Tomatoes.[11]

Director Quentin Tarantino included Dogville in his list of top 20 films released since 1992 (the year he became a director).[12]


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 worldwide. In the opening US weekend it did poorly, grossing only $88,855. The movie was released in only nine theaters, however, with an average of $9,872 per theater.[13] In Denmark, the film grossed $1,231,984.[14] The highest-grossing country was Italy, with $3,272,119.[14]


Award Category Recipients and nominees Result
Bodil Awards Best Danish Film Lars von Trier Won
Best Actress Nicole Kidman Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Stellan Skarsgård Nominated
Robert Award Best Costume Design Manon Rasmussen Won
Best Screenplay Lars von Trier Won
Best Editor Molly Marlene Stensgård Nominated
Best Film Lars von Trier Nominated
Best Cinematography Anthony Dod Mantle Nominated
Best Production Design Peter Grant Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Stellan Skarsgård Nominated
Best Director Lars von Trier Nominated
Cannes Film Festival Palme d'Or Lars von Trier Nominated
European Film Awards Best Cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle Won
Best Film Lars von Trier Nominated
Best Director Lars von Trier Nominated
Best Screenwriter Lars von Trier Nominated
Goya Awards Best European Film Lars von Trier Nominated
Russian Guild of Film Critics Russian Guild of Film Critics Golden Aries Award for Best Foreign Actress Nicole Kidman Won
Best Foreign Film Lars von Trier Won
Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists Best Director Lars von Trier Nominated
Guldbagge Award Best Foreign Film Lars von Trier Nominated
Golden Trailer Awards Best Independent Lars von Trier Nominated
David di Donatello Best European Film Lars von Trier Won
Copenhagen International Film Festival Honorary Award Lars von Trier Won
Cinema Brazil Grand Prize Best Foreign Film Lars von Trier Won
Cinema Writers Circle Awards, Spain Best Foreign Film Lars von Trier Won
Guild of German Art House Cinemas Best Foreign Film Lars von Trier Won
Sofia International Film Festival Best Film Lars von Trier Won

Top ten lists[edit]



  1. ^ "DOGVILLE (15)". British Board of Film Classification. 2003-10-14. Retrieved 2013-02-06. 
  2. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Dogville". Retrieved 2009-11-05. 
  3. ^ "Dogville (2003)". British Film Institute. Retrieved July 7, 2015. 
  4. ^ von Trier in the dvd audio commentary track, Ch.6
  5. ^ Dogville: The Pilot on IMDb
  6. ^ Marit Kapla: Our Town. Filmmaker Magazine, June 11, 2002.
  7. ^ Dogville, by Roger Ebert
  8. ^ Quentin Tarantino's Top 20 Favorite Films
  9. ^
  10. ^ Scott, A. O. (2004-03-21). "'Dogville' – It Fakes a Village". Retrieved 2010-02-25. 
  11. ^ Dogville (2003) Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved on 28 March 2010.
  12. ^ Brown, Lane. "Team America, Anything Else Among the Best Movies of the Past Seventeen Years, Claims Quentin Tarantino". Vulture. New York Media LLC. Retrieved September 13, 2016. 
  13. ^ "Dogville (2004)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2010-02-25. 
  14. ^ a b [1]
  15. ^ 2004 Film Critic Top Ten Lists Retrieved on 28 March 2010.
  • Georg Tiefenbach: Drama und Regie (Writing and Directing): Lars von Trier's Breaking the Waves, Dancer in the Dark, Dogville. Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann 2010. ISBN 978-3-8260-4096-2.

External links[edit]