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Dark Like Blood


"a film ought to be like a pebble in your shoe" (28:50).
Lars Von Trier's Epidemic (1987)


Points of Reflection

Lars Von Trier's Epidemic (1987)

1 In an interview with Ole Michelsen in 1982, Lars von Trier articulated a desire to “use an impeccable technique to tell people a story they don't want to be told. This is in my opinion the definition of true art” (Lumholdt 10).  What tale does the film Epidemic provide its audience, and does it carry any uncomfortable insights within it?

2. is Lars layering a commentary about the medical profession into the screenplay’s opening scene within a hospital?

3. why make the idealistic, sacrificial doctor the inadvertent disseminator of the deadly disease?

4. Lars talks to Niels about injecting some “humor” into the screenplay by poking fun at organized religion and the education system (41:15-42:58). Does he succeed in the moments screened for the audience?  Does the fictional screenplay at this point, or any others, seem amusing?

5. in Lars and Niels research about plagues, they also meet up with German actor Udo Kier and allow him to talk about the bombing of a German hospital during WWII.  Why include this particular, horrifying incident in the film given that it happeras to have little to do with deadly diseases?

6. what do you make of the very odd (and perhaps offensive) line uttered by the immersed priest at the end of his description of the burning city nearby, the part that begins “All a nigger needs . . .”?  Also, does the presence of the “N-word” provide the enigmatic epidemic screenplay with geographical specificity, since this word’s pejorative used appears to have originated in America?

7. why include the five-minute long scene concerning Niels’ epistolary conversations with girls in Atlantic City, New Jersey?  How is Niels’ observation about the desire to gain “knowledge by description” relevant to the film as a whole, and why place it immediately prior to the mesmerist’s melodramatic visit?

8. Claes arrives for dinner to discover a completed screenplay much shorter and less dramatic than he anticipated.  Does he get the excitement he’s looking for in the script before the film ends?

9. we do not see Lars himself once the film’s final moments start contaminating and eliminating various characters.  Why might Von Trier remove himself in this way?

10. why might von Trier have the word “Epidemic” (w/ copyright) in red font appear in the left-hand corner of virtually every shot in the film, and at what points does it actually disappear?

11. at what points in the film does a character count aloud?  What practical function do these moments serve?

12. at what points does do the film switch from grainy 16 mm film stock to clear, detailed 35 mm stock. To what end?

13. why is E. Mesmer, the physician in their screenplay, never called upon to speak?

14. what do you make of the fact that Susan and Niels laugh all the time, and that Lars laughs infrequently (and then, only sympathetically)?

15. why name the medical hero of their screenplay “Mesmer,” apparently after the famous mesmerist?

16. does this film promote the kind of tightly knit community that has long interested Lars Von Trier?

17. what clues does the film drop throughout the narrative that a real-world epidemic is approaching?

18. having completed the film, recall the narrator’s opening observation that the fact that an actual epidemic manifests itself as the fictional script is completed is a mere coincidence.  Does the film as a whole support this assertion, or does it suggest a more direct connection between creativity and real-world events?

Mannequin (1926-27)
"The Rotting Donkey" (1928)
oils and gravel, collage panel
Salvador Dalí

Dr. Paul Marchbanks

horses seem ubiquitous in this film. Does Von Trier assign this motif a single symbolic function?