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The Idea Of Other In Albert Camus' Novel Stranger And Lars Von Trier's Movie Dogville

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This essay about the film Dogville of Lars Von Trier is going to introduce through this film, the idea to be a “stranger” nowadays. How can it be appreciated in the content table, first I would contextualize the film of Dogville by explaining it and showing the most relevant data that surrounds the film. Then through an analysis of the film, this is going to be better explained in order to be compared with the Albert Camus work of The Stranger. Dogville presents a dystopic vision of human morality and more concrete, the moral and practices that happen in a simple village in the United States of America. For this reason and because in the lecture classes we had compared the moral of Albert Camus and Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, I included this author to have another vision and go more deeply with what these three authors wanted to express about the traditional values.

The context of the film

Dogville is not a current movie. It is the first film of the trilogy “USA – Land of opportunities”. It is divided into 9 episodes and a prologue. The scenario is presented withdrawn houses without walls, a narrator who sees and knows everything, and a town full of people that is not what it seems to be; the reflective intention and typical social analysis of the filmographic work is livelier than ever in the work of Lars Von Trier.

The film is located in an imaginary town with limited resources. Their neighbourhood has a series of customs and their lives are under the appearance of a fictional reality. One day during the great depression years, a fugitive persecuted by mobsters arrives looking for shelter to hide from them and the town decides to help her in return for her services.

The social phenomenon of immigration

In general, the phenomenon of immigration that is the fact that someone goes from their natal country to another is usually a phenomenon motivated for economic or war reasons. The country of destination usually offers better socio-economic conditions, more possibilities to find a good job and its safer.

Therefore, immigration is born due to hope on the part of the emigrants, who become immigrants when they reach the new country, to have a better life for them and their children in the country they emigrate.

This hope, however, is often truncated by the blow reality. In general, the country they go to; or does not want them because they can hardly offer a life that is worthy to their own inhabitants, or if they want them, is only for interest to carry out the most degrading tasks that someone must do but nobody wants.

We can see clear parallelism between this situation and the situation that Lars Von Trier presents with Grace and the people of Dogville. When Grace arrives at the village waiting for the help of some neighbourhood and the allow to start a new life there, the locals are distrustful, test her, order her the tasks they do not want to do but they would like someone to do and, despite having passed the two test weeks and having done diligently her mandatory tasks, the inhabitants continue to be distrustful with her and continue treating her as a second-class citizen.

Motivations of the director Lars Von Trier

The director’s intention with the story of Dogville is trying to understand human nature and morality beyond good and bad, kindness and evil. Trier makes a rigorous analysis of human behaviour and ideas of morality, ethics and justice, making us even doubt our idea of ​​what is morality. This is a complex character that goes beyond the typical director of Hollywood, but I think that the best way to understand Trier is through the following statement he made during a press conference on one of his latest Works when asked about his approach to Judaism, and for which he was accused of anti-Semitic and apology of Nazism: ‘I understand Hitler, although I understand that he did the wrong things, of course. I’m just saying that I understand man, it’s not what we would call a good guy, but I sympathize a little with him.’ Lars von Trier apologizes for his words about Hitler, El País, May 18, 2011.

Lars Von Trier uses the cinema to explain stories which whom people, can reflect and do a social analysis. Such as we can find in this whole trilogy film.

To begin, regarding the initial structure of Dogville, we can appreciate that the film signs the typical structure of a “Disney” film. With an initial presentation mark by an omniscient narrator, a middle and an end. Probably, the director had the intention to understand that this history was a story or a fable and that as all fables, there is a reflexive moral behind.

As well as the film is played, in the first term, the scene is probably the most impacting feature. Trier presents us a minimalist setting, without walls, ground neither plants, without more decoration than the indispensable. Also, strictly limited at the village extension. It doesn’t show any landscape, nor sky, nor sun neither moon. To indicate the public the hours of the day, Trier only magnifies and diminish the brightness of the stage. This presentation probably responds to a wish for the director’s part to avoiding unnecessary distractions with the scene and its decoration. Designed to keep the spectator focused on the story and taking part in it. Showing us Dogville and his inhabitants, without any superficial distractions. Completely nude.

During the course of the film, we can identify the two main characters, which are Tom and Grace. The masculine protagonist Tom is a youthful dweller of the village who has a natural ability for the oratory. The female protagonist Grace, is a young woman who arrives in Dogville unknown why, being chased by a mobster’s group, is helped in the first term by Tom who pities her. During her stay on Dogville, Grace act as a moral observer of the injustices committed by the inhabitants of the town, judging them from their principles and trying to get inside their skin and excuse them, but without fighting or offering resistance.

The storyteller, the voice-over we hear at all times but we never see, plays a key role in the history of Dogville. Basically, this voice places us in history while preparing us for future events and makes us understand that not everything is as it seems. For example, he often uses sarcasm and irony to narrate the facts, instead of explaining them as they happen. It also makes us understand from the outset that this story is a fable, in the style of Disney movies and popular stories, with a moral reflection on the back.

Initially, the inhabitants of Dogville do not seem to need anything from Grace. It’s simple people, with simple needs that are already covered before reaching Grace. What can she do that they do not already have? It is then when Tom finds out that, instead of doing things they need, Grace could do things that the inhabitants of Dogville do not need but would like them to do it. This is how the silent desires and luxuries of the inhabitants turn into new needs, needs that newcomer Grace will have to replace if she wants to be able to remain in the town, becoming almost a slave, because, where Grace will go if she decides to deny the works?

During the first weeks of Grace in the village, the situation is almost idyllic, utopian we could say. The inhabitants add to their efforts and almost accept it as one more. This situation, however, changes when the director introduces a new variable to history: a higher authority. A police officer hangs a search and place a poster of Grace in the middle of the town. Suddenly, the inhabitants of Dogville begin to become more distrustful towards who from the first moment has been kind, honest and willing to help in everything that is needed. The reason is being a foreigner, although, in the last few weeks, it was no longer really so foreign. Thus, the inhabitants find the perfect excuse to start demanding more and more Grace, reducing their already humble salary and increasing their working hours, justifying the ‘danger’ that implied the fact ‘ to help her’.

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Initially, the inhabitants of Dogville present themselves as ordinary people, with lives and current problems, but we quickly begin to understand that what we first thought about them was just the appearance they tried to convey to others. So, they do not take long to show how they really are.

The first humiliations are subtle: to make it work more hours, to blackmail him, not to allow him to cross the town on the shortest path because she is not from the town… But these small humiliations go on even more until they reach the culmination of malice and injustice: one by one and at various moments of the film, all the male inhabitants of the town violate Grace. Tired of the mistreatment of the town, when she tries to escape with the confidence of the only member of the town who seems kind to him, he cheats, rape her and returns her to the town, where they put a chain on her neck like a dog ‘for her good’. In addition, the first to violate her is John, who is discovered by his wife. He responds lying, saying that Grace seduced him, causing that the wife decides to avenge Grace breaking one by one the only things that still joined Grace to the people, the result of their effort and their stoic resistance to the injustices to which it has been subjected: the figurines of porcelain.

When his father, who ultimately turns out to be the gangster who chased her, offers him ‘punish’ the inhabitants of Dogville for his acts. Despite the terrible humiliations, violations and ill-received by them, Grace’s initial reaction is to reject the idea strongly. Believing that if they did all this is because of the situation in which they were, for having been taken away by their primitive instincts simply because they are human, and she does not think that they should be punished for that but forgive and try to understand. To this initial response, his father accuses her of arrogant.

After this initial refusal, his father offers her to think about it, and that’s when Grace has a revelation: it is true that the inhabitants of Dogville cannot avoid being as they are, but neither they do anything to change. Grace realizes that if she were in their situation, she would feel bad and be punished by herself, but the inhabitants of Dogville do not, they do not change or have remorse. It is then that Grace decides that the only morally correct thing that she can do is to destroy the town and kill their inhabitants, every one of them. Tom, in particular, the most cowardly, manipulative and twisted of them, she kills him personally, ending with this fact the fable of Dogville.

Albert Camus

Albert Camus was a French philosopher, author and journalist activist. His views contributed to the philosophy known as absurdism. He was born on November 7, 1913, in Dréan (Algeria), in the province of Constantine, in a rather humble family. After his father’s death in war, his mother and her two children moved to Algiers. The mother worked in a factory, and then as a domestic worker. Camus was thus in contact with the humblest French social class of the Algerian capital and even with the Arab sub-proletariat. He attended high school thanks to the efforts of his elementary school teacher, Louis Germain, who, impressed by his intelligence, helped him to win a scholarship. Years later, he dedicated Speech of Sweden (Nobel Prize in Literature, 1957) to Germain. During high school, he got tuberculosis but continued his studies. He began writing for several literary journals and adhered to the anti-Franco movement founded by Romain Rolland and Henri Barbusse. He kept studying and graduated, but the scholarships he had were not enough and he took different jobs, including an employee in a shipping company and in a meteorological institute. In 1934 he enrolled in the Communist Party but abandoned it after the agreements between French Prime Minister Pierre Laval and Stalin. The exact date remains uncertain, but the basis of his renunciation was the communist attitude towards Arabs and French colonialism after this agreement. He wrote Caligula, his first theatrical work, and began working for a liberal left-wing newspaper, “Alger républicain”, directed by Pascal Pia. For Camus, journalism became a forum for conducting his battle for humanity; he followed the political affairs and defended Arabs, which earned him the criticism of the French authorities in Algeria. In 1939 his fight against the exploitation of the Arabs became stronger. In each article, he denounced the situation in which the Arabs lived in France and, at the same time, the conditions created by the French colonialist policy in Algeria. Camus decided to leave Algeria and travel to Paris. In May 1940 he finished writing The Stranger, but he had to flee to Clermont and then to Lyon because of the German invasion. In 1939 his fight against the exploitation of the Arabs became stronger. In each article, he denounced the situation in which the Arabs lived in France and, at the same time, the conditions created by the French colonialist policy in Algeria.

The idea of “other” and being a stranger in A.Camus The Stranger book. Compared with Dogville.

The idea of “other” in A.Camus, I am going to take it especially from his book: The Stranger. The book specially fit in this essay because it also reflects the author’s own experience about feeling and living in the France society the exclusion of his natal country.

The stranger was published during the German occupation. The story develops in Algiers and its suburbs. The book summaries the worries of a generation that grew between two wars. The first part of the story symbolizes the destroying part with the daily banality that consumes existence and an absurd gesture of revolt. The second part is the conscious one, with the process that Meursault (the protagonist) comes to get out of the world.

The first comparison we could establish between the two works is that Meursault is a Frenchman from Algeria, the result of the encounter between two cultures. On the other hand, Grace enters the town as a fugitive who desperate is searching for a place to live peacefully in exchange for manual work.

In both works, the protagonists suffer from a change during the stories. In The Stranger, Until the process, he is well inserted into his existence. When the process starts, he begins to feel extraneous and thus extraneous to external reality. In Dogville, Grace when arrives at the town takes the role of being someone to take care and to give work to. When the dangerous increase for having her inside the town, she converts in a slave who does not have any word to say about the work she receives and the inhabitants start to treat her as something who have less power than them (an object).

Also in both works, is not that the protagonists feel like as strangers, is that the society is making Meursault and Grace stranger because they do not “respect” the rules of the game, in other words, the established traditional morality that the society has in the stories. The great aspect is that both society morals that are implicit in the stories are a real representation that wanted to make both authors in a critic way.

To finish with the comparisons of the two works, The Stranger of A.Camus, focus more the aim to make the reader reflection about the existence and the feelings that feel the protagonist as a stranger. On the other hand, Dogville of Lars Von Trier, focus more on the goal to make the reader reflect that morality is a controversial concept and how the relative conception of it can result in different actions.

The vision of morality according to Nietzsche

Nietzsche undertook a profound critique of Western religion, culture, philosophy and morale. This criticism focused primarily on reflecting on the effects of the secularization of the illustration in traditional Christian society, a reflection that is reflected in his strong expression, ‘God is dead.’

In his work, The Genealogy of Morality (1887), Nietzsche addresses the critique of the current morality based on the study of the origin of moral prejudices. One of its fundamental arguments was that the traditional values, represented essentially by Christianity, had lost their power in the lives of people. He was convinced that traditional values ​​represented a ‘slave morality’, a morality created by weak and resentful people that fostered behaviours such as submission and conformism. Resentment is the one who created the moral values ​​of the West and is responsible for the emergence of an enemy civilization of life and a mediocre man.

Nietzsche affirmed the need to create new values ​​that had to replace the traditional ones, to arrive at the day in which one could live ‘beyond good and evil’, and his discussion of this possibility evolved to configure his portrait of the man to come, the ‘Superman’ (übermensch in German), an idea that would later influence transhumanism and justify Nazism.

In Dogville, we can appreciate this pessimistic view of Nietzsche’s moral and human nature. Throughout the work we see the moral principles of Grace, who considers that the inhabitants of Dogville cannot avoid being as they are and always tries to stick to their skin and apologize their behaviours, turn it into a slave , in a submissive and conformist person who only when he goes beyond his moral limitations, can become the proprietor of his destiny, a superwomen, in the style of Nietzsche’s ‘Superman’, and commit perhaps unpleasant acts but necessary that she might have previously considered immoral. Thus, Trier reflects on the overcoming of good and bad concepts, of going beyond good and evil.

Dystopias as social criticism

Dystopic visions, like Dogville itself, are models that are born of a possible changed present or future, exaggerating negative consequences of some aspects of the society. Thus, in this work, Trier strongly criticizes traditional morality, the idea of ​​distinguishing between good and bad and the false belief that we can all and want to become good. The inhabitants of Dogville not only commit injustices, but they also do nothing to stop being produced, in order to improve as people. At the same time, the moral principles of Grace prevent her from protesting or fighting against these behaviours, she tries to understand them, excusing them, believing they are not bad at all and that they are simply human, instinctive by nature, becoming the slave of her morality, in a submissive and conformist person. Until she reveals her moral and takes justice by her hand. Thus, with this dystopian vision, Lars Von Trier shows exaggeratedly the consequences of this submission to prevailing morals, and the need to go beyond good and evil.


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