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Dark Like Blood

Grace and Justice

"If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves
and the truth is not in us."
I John 1:8


Points of Reflection

The Bible: Luke 13:5-9

1. does Jesus' parable of the barren fig tree suggest that God believes in second chances?

2. what happens to the fruit tree if it fails to bear fruit yet another year?

The Bible Matthew 18:21-35

1. does Jesus' response to Peter suggest that human forgiveness should have a limit? He does provide a number in his response, after all.

2. in this second parable, is the God-like figure (the king) willing to forgive always, or does He allow his grace to have limits?

3. how does Jesus define forgiveness (v.35)?

Lars von Trier's Dogville (2003)

1. what does the film’s setting, in the Rocky Mountains, near an old and abandoned silver mine, immediately suggest about the community after which the film is named?

2. does the absence of walls, doors, and ceilings seem apropos for this story? Does Lars von Trier’s decision to shoot this tale on a stage alter its believability?  Does it adversely affect the degree of realism he achieves?

3. return to the arrangement of homes and shops provided by the God’s-eye view with which the film opens. In light of later events, does the arrangement appear important?

4. the narrator opens the film by claiming that the residents of Dogville are “good, honest folks,”  yet the film seems determined to prove the narrator wrong.  Consider the male narrator’s other observations.  Generally speaking, is the narrator’s perspective on matters reliable?

5. why might von Trier have graced his central, male protagonist with the name “Tom Edison”?

6. are Tom’s efforts to change Dogville, prior to Grace’s arrival, efficacious?

7. what motivates Tom to reach out to Grace?

8. what do Tom’s opening interactions with the townsfolk in “The Prelude,” and the verbal portraits he paints of them in “Chapter One,” together reveal about the inhabitants of Dogville?  Do they appear to be in need of the “moral re-armament” he recommends?

9. is Tom’s manner of approaching his fellow citizens more like that of a school teacher, a preacher, or a peripatetic philosopher?

10. Tom claims that his fellows are good and honest when he first meets Grace (18:16), though his descriptions of the townspeople when walking Grace around later prove rather sardonic (26:30).  What provokes such uneven feelings about his hometown?

11. Grace looks at Dogville and sees “a beautiful little town . . . where people have hopes and dreams even under the hardest conditions” (26:35), whereas Chuck says it’s “rotten from the inside out,” that he “wouldn’t miss it if it fell into the gorge tomorrow” (43:50).  Whose perspective seems to be more accurate?

12. does Grace grow to love the residents of Dogville? Do they love her?  Upon what definition of love are you relying in answering these questions?

13. on July 4, why might Tom not kiss Grace right after she confesses that she loves him, and moves in closer towards him?

14. do the townspeople of Dogville grow more corrupt over the course of the film, or merely, slowly begin to show their true colors?

15. if Grace’s presence is a force for good in Dogville--if she provides a kind of catalyst for deeper self-understanding and movement away from unhealthy patterns—why doesn’t the film conclude with a fully realized redemptive transformation?  What prevents the townsfolk from continuing to become better people?

16. why do the townspeople become increasingly less patient with and irritable around Grace the more she does for them?  Her working twice as many hours as before earns her less, not more respect and affection.  Why?

17. Grace once told Chuck that nothing he could do would make her hate him. Do his violent actions towards her change her position, or demonstrate the truth of her claim?

18. what causes Grace to weep for the first time since her childhood, and why does she break down so thoroughly?

19. does Tom act on his sexual desire for Grace in a way that resembles the approach of the other men in town?  What motivates each of them?

20. are the men and women of Dogville equally cruel towards Grace, or does one sex prove kinder in the long run?

21. within the contours of this film, is it loving to show grace and forgiveness over and over again?  Does it help those who sin against you?

22. does Von Trier rely on easy stereotypes in his portrayal of disability in this film?

23. what inspires Tom to finally write a first chapter for his first book?

24. Von Trier is quite willing to capture both sexually explicit and uncomfortably grotesque, gory images in his work.  Why might he have chosen to eschew such visual explicitness in this film?  Does this decision lessen the emotional impact of those scenes which easily could have included such elements?

25. is the ending to this film just?

26. why allow the chalk outline of the town dog, Moses, to become an actual dog at the film’s close?

"Pietá" (1982)
oil on canvas
Salvador Dalí

Dr. Paul Marchbanks