Grace as Provocation to Politically Correct Dogville: Von Trier’s Challenge of the Canons of Society



The aesthetics and poetics of Lars von Trier constantly provoke the audience. His movies are shifting the limits in visual arts and very often communicate with the audience through the effects of shock, whether targeted to aesthetic or moral values.

In Dogville, Lars von Trier synthesizes formal elements of the movie and Brecht’s theory of the epic theatre. Destroying the existing aesthetic and visual canons, von Trier enables the spectator to experience new level of content reception.

Through the experience of Grace, the main character, von Trier is pointing to the experience of man in today’s society. Grace points out the imperfections of the society, and therefore puts herself in the position of the victim of the subjective and objective violence (symbolical and systemic). Žižek says that opposing to all forms of violence – from physical (mass murder, terror) to ideological violence (racism, purring the violence, sexual discrimination) – is the main preoccupation of the dominant “tolerant liberal world view”. Focusing on the obvious violence you miss to notice objective violence, the one which is part of the society. Grace was an object of both subjective and objective violence without opposing, desiring to fit into the society which, paradoxically, had no grace for her.

Von Trier provokes Dogville inhabitants through the character of good, hardworking and obedient Grace, and he destroys the ideal picture they had of themselves. Grace becomes their mirror of reality. In the character of Grace, this closed society gets the role of the Other (Lacan) and uses it as a mirror, to see itself. 

Using the relation between power and violence, von Trier points out to the imperfections and shallowness of the society which is relating to what we today call political correctness. The movie itself is von Trier’s provocation of the society and a call for rewieving the limits of the social and political correctness.

Keywords: Dogville, Lars von Trier, provocation, subjective and objective violence