If you try to elevator pitch any of Lars von Trier’s films, they sound like they come from the mind of an idiotic, perverse, trolling provocateur. “A simple woman has sex with other men at the wishes of God and her sick husband.” “An immigrant woman going blind starts imagining herself in a musical.” “A couple retreat to a cabin in the woods after the death of their child and there’s genital mutilation.” “As the world is about to end, one woman’s depression ignites a crashing finale to her wedding.”
These incredibly simplistic and reductive descriptions of plot do offer interest, but what they do not reveal is the nuance and complexity of Lars von Trier’s filmography. It would not be totally unreasonable to assume that, based on how sadistic and provocative von trier can be, that the Danish auteur is a nihilist, but a closer examination of some of his work would reveal that Lars von Trier is very nearly a paradox: a romantic cynic. In Dogville, Antichrist, and Melancholia, each film bursts with emotion and contempt, two concepts that would initially seem at odds with one another. But these films seem to be Lars von Trier’s cognitive dissonance articulated in film form. A desire and an acknowledgement for what reigns rampant in life.
In all of Trier’s films, emotion, subjectivity, and intuition are in their fullest forms by female characters: from Grace (Nicole Kidman) in Dogville, She (Charlotte Gainsbourg) in Antichrist, and Justine (Kirsten Dunst) in Melancholia. Logic and rational thinking are represented by male characters: Tom (Paul Bettany) in Dogville, He (Willem Dafoe) in Antichrist, and John (Kiefer Sutherland) in Melancholia. In these pairings, the concepts or ideologies often face off against one another, a brutal and exhausting battle.