Dancer in the Dark

Rated: R
Runtime: 2 Hours and 21 Minutes

Reviewer: Dale
Grade: A+

Wow. That is really the only word I can manage when thinking about this film. Why did I wait so long? What kept me? It was probably Bjork. I have never liked Bjork much. I have usually agreed with those who referred to her as an Icelandic chipmunk. But the good reviews were plentiful (including the always helpful Barbi Hilleshiem) and so I gave it a shot.

Thank God I did. This movie is one of the most powerful films of the year 2000. I'm not kidding. It ranks right up there with "Requiem For a Dream" as far as sheer intensity goes. The performances are all top drawer and the story is utterly compelling. By the end of the first hour and a half, I had to stop the film to do some chores outside (the hazard of living on a farm) and it was only then that I realized I had opened a can of pop about a half hour before. The film had me hooked.

"Dancer in the Dark" is the sad tale of Selma (Bjork). Selma is a woman who loves her son more than life itself. She is slowly going blind and is concerned with only one thing: saving money so that her son can afford an operation which will prevent him from suffering her fate. Her world is slowly going dark, but she still needs her job at the factory in order to save her son's sight. She memorizes the eye chart so that she can pass the eye exam and retain her job. She does her job not by sight but rather by the rhythms of the machines which surround her. She has a loyal friend (Catherine Deneuve, who is excellent) a loyal, male admirer (Peter Stormare) and a very nice neighbor who happens to be a police officer (David Morse). Her neighbor is the only one to whom she confesses her plight, but only after he has confessed something to her: the inheritence he has been living on is gone and his wife will be also when she realizes this fact. He needs money and he needs it immediately.

This revelation will turn out to be a much darker one than you can anticipate right away, leading to a horrific chain of events that will put Selma's musical daydreams and her quite stubborn optimism to the ultimate test. You see, Selma is a lover of old musicals. In fact, when the dire circumstances of her life threaten to overwhelm her, Selma takes the rhythms of her daily life and turns them into her own mental musical numbers. It is her only way of survival. If she did not have them, she might view the world as grimly as her neighbor Bill (Morse) does. But, as the circumstances of her life grow more and more nightmarish and the world around her begins to lose its rhythm, the sunny outlook of hers may not last.

This is a dark, sad and honest movie. It is one of the few movies in recent memory that admits that life is a pretty grim place. After seeing a movie like this one, one that is concerned with such problems as blindness, poverty and death, it's a little hard to give a shit about whether or not Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan get together at the end. This movie has more serious things on its mind. And that is what keeps it soaring even when the sheer corniness of some of its musical numbers threaten to overwhelm it. After all, these numbers do serve a purpose. They show us how Selma chooses to see the world and it shows us the dangers of loving movies so much that you lose touch with the world around you. It is a cautionary tale not only about capital punishment but also about getting TOO wrapped up in your dreams when such things might not be appropriate. However, it is also about the way dreams are sometimes the only things we have to cling to.

God, this is a miraculous movie. The cinematography, all done on digital camera, does a superb job of grounding the film in reality and making the film's day-to-day world FEEL like the day to day world. It also does a beautiful job of making the world of Selma's dreams feel completely magical and wrapping you up in the magic she revels in.

And as for Selma, well, Bjork gives a daring and beautifully modulated performance. Even her voice fits the role. Her voice has always seemed less like that of a polished singer than that of a novice who loves to sing. Well, that is perfect for Selma. Hell, now I like her style of singing. She has a tremendous vocal range and what she may lack (probably just in my eyes) in melodiousness (I think now that she is just too distinctive and unusual for the casual listener like myself) she more than makes up for in passion. Her role here is filled with passion. She will break your heart here and make you instantly captivated. Bjork, honey, if you can turn in a performance this amazing, you can wear a swan anywhere you want. How can she not even get nominated? I have already chastised the Academy enough this week, but neglecting this performance is nothing short of a crime against humanity.

If you're a Bjork fan or not, you NEED to see this movie. Wow. Trust me. Go. Laugh at me all you want right now. But see the movie and THEN try to laugh at me. I am certain you won't be able to. An intense, powerful, daring and exhilarating film that is truly worthy of being called revolutionary. I don't think I can lavish much higher praise.