Imagine Time and Space
Imagine Time and Space

In his film “Dogville”, Lars von Trier was searching for a new aesthetic, the one that is different from computer-generated imagery already being ubiquitous, and being more like “a return to theatrical narrative”. The mise-en-scene fantasy concept used here introduces a rather special setting, unlike other similar works. Kurt Lewin’s theory of ‘hodological’ and Lefebvre’s ideas are employed to discuss how such application of non-traditional techniques makes the spectator invent the town settings for oneself as believed by the director. References to Sartre’s theory of emotion and Brecht’s “distancing effect” are made.

Mise-en-scene is an umbrella term, which means a variety of techniques in storytelling and film direction, the fundamentals of image language in a unique narrative medium and according linguistic method used to convey ideas. “Dogville” features Lars von Trier’s subversion of such techniques. In other works, while there are either unusual or exotic materials used for construction of walls and settings, or settings themselves are surreal – like paper in “The Science of Sleep”, or a soundproof setting in “I'm a Cyborg But That's OK”, spaces are comprised of patterns of similar colours, director’s cuts are made in a special “theatrical” manner – here in “Dogville”, the walls are absent at all, the entire ground is flat, reminiscent of a blackboard with chalk drawings of boundaries and signatures of places. The “blackboard” itself with its surface and colour immediately reminds the viewer about school days and important everyday lessons received at the time, presenting the social interactions as a source of moral lessons to learn. The film opening (establishing shot) immediately presents the actual physical location (stage with various pieces of furniture, characters, and chalk outlines) and the metaphysical one – the small town of Dogville itself, which is not actually present. Thus, it needs to be imagined by the viewers to follow the story. This is a rather rare filmic example of Brecht’s “distancing effect” in cinema, cleverly applied to detach viewers from the characters and/or scene, or to make them more consciously critical of the events in the narrative.

Fantasy, meaning “not of reality” when applied to cinematographic medium can produce interesting and fascinating results. As Lars von Trier points out in his interview, with computer-generated imagery becoming ubiquitous the idea of fantastic settings has become too available and thus has lost its inspiration. Techniques of mise-en-scene had to be developed that would result in less “filmic” cinematography, in many cases returning to old theatrical roots of modern cinema. This reversal became a trend in modern cinema, later caught on by many other directors. Searching for a new aesthetic to facilitate his own, personal representation of America – the place of perverted idealism, conditioned hospitality, and perceived total justice, von Trier has come up with an idea of an “emotional film” about generally any kind of small town in the world. Roughly, all films can be divided into “fiction” and “documentary” genres, being fundamentally different, opposed to each other in their character, type of events representation and storytelling. Documentaries are generally intended to show people in their usual life course, or certain situations – specific people and actions they took to change things or history as they made it, meaning documentaries are phenomenological. Fiction, on the other hand, is much freer in expression, with its use of dramaturgy, storytelling and directing techniques, in most cases strongly appealing to emotions of users – cannot be perceived as a reflection of real life per se, being a synthetic world created by the director with intents like entertainment and/or sharing some vision, ideas, morals. On the other hand, cinema is not some kind of objectified external universe cut off from the spectator by an impassable barrier. Hodological field – the physical and social environment (‘‘field’’) that is perceived as a set of attracting or repelling ‘‘vectors’’ directed towards or away from various objects provides us with such instrumental ideas – as if the world is an artefact of our own, with us starring in our own Hollywood film with the plot and action making decisions based on significance of our presence and interests. Where the world itself intrudes into our life course, when we are unable to instrumentally explain things teleologically (in terms of end goals), or phenomenologically accept them outside our reflective control, according to Sartre, emotions arise:

All emotions have this in common, that they evoke the appearance of a world, cruel, terrible, bleak, joyful, etc., but in which the relations of things to consciousness are always and exclusively magical. We have to speak of a world of emotion as one speaks of a world of dreams or of madness.

As for relations of subject to the Other (per Sartre's theories), a perfect explanation to entanglement of social interactions and emotions can be provided as:

...relations between human beings could only be those of conflict – of one freedom pitted against another... Man's characteristic reaction to the 'look' that someone else turned upon him has to be to feel naked and ashamed.

presenting possibilities for us to re-think how we might share our place in the world.

“Dogville” obviously presents a pure hodological space, the human experience as a complex social energy field. To my mind, a field in a traditional meaning being an abstract construct created by vectors aligned in space, in its physical manifestations, dynamic and dependent on every active object and their interactions, like the electromagnetic or gravitational – easily penetrates walls and other barriers. For example, the gravitational field of Earth works inside buildings just as well as it does outside. Through a narrative of the story and careful display of the processes happening inside this “social field”, Lars von Trier conveys the idea that walls and settings, places and probably times related, are all transparent to the properties of the social energy field. Not showing the settings in his cinema is, therefore, an essential step to make – the field currently in question does not know or care about building walls. Moreover, while the chalk and blackboard can be blatantly viewed to symbolize school and important social lessons (as discussed earlier), on the other hand, they can mean a typical setting of a physicist solving tasks/exercises to explore and understand better the properties of a particular field – an interpretation that is much more favoured by current author. What von Trier most definitely meant, stating that the absence of setting forces the spectators to invent the town for themselves should be understood in such light – that the fundamental ideas, mechanisms and interactions are being shown to the viewer; while the context does not quite matter. If one so inclines, he/she may invent the place and shapes/architecture of houses, etc., literally apply the more abstract theory to a specific problem – in this case, to a particular small town on one's mind.

Furthermore, cinema is not actually cut off from the spectator by a barrier, although the flat screen may appear as one first. The power of our imaginations and abstract reasoning allows us to interact with the film, especially on emotional levels. Cinema is the art of social space, bringing before the spectators the intersubjective ‘life-spaces’ of the characters in the film. In case of any film, and especially with films having mise-en-scene like the ones discussed, allows one to abstract away from cultural differences or somehow different places or people which facilitates more efficient interaction of our own social energy fields and the ones created by the film characters. The experience and perception of cinema by a particular individual is greatly conditioned by one's previous social experiences, and along with the settings, characters with their social fields and interactions allows a new kind of “world” to emerge for the user. Literally, the content and quality of cinema we watch can directly influence our life courses.

Theories of Henri Lefebvre can immediately provide another perspective for current discussion. In his “Critique of everyday life” he states life to be an intersection of illusion and truth, power and helplessness; the intersection of the sector man controls and the sector he does not control. While all these were already mentioned previously, although called by different terms – phenomenological/instrumental, inside/outside reflective control and using the emergence concept instead “at the intersection”, one cannot help but notice that most of Dogville's script deals with the same issues in Grace's (main character) life – the corruption of town citizens by absolute power, idealistic illusion of their flawless morals and lifestyle, turning of Grace into a helpless “consumable thing” by town members and especially portrays various sectors people can and cannot control, like their own corruption or idealistic perversion. Finally, the divine sun that is “moving after all” is the ultimate thing out of control. Justice upon oneself can also be seen as something out of his/her control.

In conclusion, Lewin’s theories of psychological fields as well as Lefebvre’s ideas of social space and his “Critique of everyday life” can be with equal efficiency applied to inside psychological and sociological analysis of cinema.

The article was created and submitted by the proffesional writer from advanced plagiarism checker - Milly Jones

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time, time, space, space, cinema, cinema, film, film, emotions, emotions, division, division, action, action,

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