Thursday, 17 April 2014

Dogville: Persephone in the Over-World.

When Grace runs away from her father, a gangster or an under-world boss, she takes refuge in Dogville. A small, ordinary, unassuming little town. There Grace sets about making her home and tries to live without those bad, bad underworld habits such as passing judgement, making choices about who is right and who is wrong.

About who should live and who should die.

Grace refuses to pass judgement... on those who rape, abuse and finally chain her to a large fly-wheel which she must drag through the town as she moves from house to house to do her un-paid work.
Grace, it seems, is incapable of passing judgement on any behaviour – no matter how reprehensible. To her, all of these behaviours are merely products of circumstance. Her father, who appears later, argues that this is arrogant condescension, and that Grace should expect of others what she expects of herself.
Finally Dogville scapegoats Grace, the good people of the town blame her for all that is wrong within their community. And Tom (a man who says that he loves Grace and yet has been the chief agent in her demise) goes to the gangsters and tells them where to find her. Though his actions may seem altruistic Tom expects a cash reward and doesn't know what will happen to Grace..

When the gangsters turn up in Dogville to claim Grace back, there is no cash reward for Tom. Nor is Grace  taken away.

Instead Grace condemns the town to death, and shoots Tom herself.

Persephone represents a darkening of knowledge, a subduction away from love and light into gloom, darkness and power. The Plutonian realm of the under-world is a place of riches and wealth, but also of death. In this story Persephone rejects the underworld and escapes to the upper-world of mortals. She clings to her memory of innocence and tries to be a saint. The result is at first positive. She is greeted with friendship and love. But this cannot last, the fact that the police are looking for Grace makes the towns-folk uneasy, they sense the presence of something 'dark' not quite right about her .

To make amends for this Grace/Persephone tries all the harder to be 'useful' doing the chores that, no-one needs but make life better.

One way to watch this film is to consider Dogville as an exploration of what happens if one chooses to abandon autonomy and takes refuge in powerlessness. Dogville is a mythic story about a girl fleeing the 'dark' forces of her underworld life. And the perils of ignoring the dark...those inner-voices of anger and dissent..

Grace gave away her power to 'save herself' when she accepted Tom's version of Dogville.

She did not know that Tom had his own agenda, his own coercive mission. Tom was desperate to assume power over Dogville by showing the town the 'error of it's ways' (Tom is an icon of liberal sentimentality, his 'altruism' nothing but ideology) . To this end he spends all his time observing the lives of others and refusing to engage in any useful work what so ever.

Tom says that he wishes to be a writer, what he really wants is to make other people behave 'better'..

Grace abandons her right to be autonomous when she chooses to accept what ever befalls her. She becomes complicit in her own demise when she surrenders her 'dark side' for fear of being deemed 'unacceptable'. The threat of being returned to the Underworld away from the promise of love is enough to silence Grace.

Sometimes Tom, apparently for the benefit of Grace, persuades Grace to stand up and tell the truth. This results in more humiliation for Grace as the town isn't interested in the concept that 'the truth will set you free' especially when Grace's 'freedom' will not benefit them.

The town just wants life to be trouble-free..

As a consequence when Grace finally understands that she had the right to be angry; to divide right from wrong and to act and to pass has all gone too far.

Grace administers justice via the barrel of a gun.
It would have been better if Grace had walked away before Dogsville made her into a slave. But it is never easy to know exactly where that point is...

The target of this story is moral relativism. Grace doesn't seem to know the difference between right and wrong when she is the victim. This absence of discrimination causes her to to forgive repeated rape and constant dehumanization. Perhaps her arrogance prevented her from seeing what was happening, or her choice to be a good girl sealed the knowledge away in a separate section of her mind. Perhaps in an Alice Miller sort of way, she accepted abuse because abuse was so normal that she couldn't see it?

This Dogville version of Persephone in-the-over-world maintains Persephone's 'image' as a Queen of Hell, don't expect mercy. It isn't as satisfying a conclusion as that of Ripley/Persephone in the fourth Alien film (Ripley/Persephone transgresses the rules by uniting the monster within herself with the human).

In Dogville, Grace/Persephone remains polarised, and ultimatly the victim becomes the abuser.