Manderlay (2005)

Dir. Lars von Trier
Starring: Bryce Dallas Howard, Isack De Bancole, Danny Glover, Willem Dafoe, Lauren Bacall, Chole Sevigny, etc.
139 minutes
6/10

Tagline: Liberation. Whether They Want it or Not

(Note: This is the second film in director, Lars von Trier’s trilogy–USA–Land of Opportunities. )

Should You See the Film?

I think if you’ve seen and liked Dogville, this is a must. If you haven’t seen either, you should definitely see Dogville first.

Both films feel like allegories that comment on American culture and politics, perhaps leaning towards current events. I didn’t like this film as much as Dogville, although I’m not exactly sure why. I think the theme and message don’t seem to be very revelatory or compelling to me. However, this is an otherwise solid film.

Personal Comments

This is a difficult film to talk about as the films seems to comment and refer to so many different things–the US attempt at demoritizing Iraq, existential questions of free choice and security, the condition and treatment of African-Americans, and perhaps several more. I almost feel like Von Trier has thrown a bunch of references to philosophy, American history and current events in a way hoping that they want all come together in a coherent way. Perhaps, I haven’t figures out the way they fit together. In any event, I basically have more questions than answers about this film.

Before I throw some of those questions out there, let me make a few remarks about the film:

1. Both Manderlay and Dogville feel allegorical. The characters and events in the story seem to represent /american culture and politics.

2. When I get right down to it, the film seems very similar to other social commentary films–i.e. Philadelphia, Do the Right Thing, The Accused, , etc. All these films have a rather simple message or illustration they want to make, and if you know the message/illustration, there isn’t much left to the movie. Manderlay feels that way. It’s like a distillation of themes from several Spike Lee films. On the other hand, I think von Trier is a little less didactic, and provides a more interesting story and storytelling style. Furthermore, I think Von Trier’s big target is white liberals–represented by Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard).

3. I think change in actors–specifically Grace and her father–was problematic. Bryce Dallas Howard and Willem Dafoe weren’t bad in this (Howard was solid), but they were different, and I don’t know if the differences were intentional or just due to the different actors. I’m fairly certain that Von Trier wants a different Grace. In Dogville, she’s more of a Christ figure (close to her namesake), while in Manderlay, Grace appears to take the same role Tom Jr (Paul Bettany) played in Dogville. The naive and, perhaps, condescending liberal attempting to “teach” or do good. Willem Dafoe was also less menacing in the second film. The whole God the father, and God the Son dynamic is not really present in the second film.

As for some of the other questions I had, here are some off the top of my head:

1. Do you think Von Trier is making a reference to the invasion of Iraq when Grace tries to set up a democratic system?

2. It occurred to me that there might be a parallel between Timothy, the “proud” slave, and Chuck (Stellan Skarsgard). We see both in a graphic sex scene. Chuck is someone who seems to have come from the city because of romanticized vision of the rural people. He finds out this is not true. Grace has a romanticized view of Timothy, which leads being duped by Timothy.

3. Is there a overarching theme or message in the film? I think it’s about racism towards African-Americans in American society.

There are many more questions, but I’ll leave it there for now. I hope others can comment on the film. I would also like to hear comments that take into account the meaning of Manderlay in relation to Dogville.

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