Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Reflection on the movie DANCER IN THE DARK (2000)

Dancer in the Dark is an Oscar-nominated film starring Bjork as a single mother/erstwhile dreamer, afflicted with a genetic disorder that eventually makes her go blind, who immigrates to the United States, not in pursuit of the American dream or special treatment of any kind but simply because the surgery which can save her son from the same fate is only performed here. She must not let her son know about their condition, though, as worry makes it progress faster and might then prevent him from being eligible for the surgery. These circumstances, with a little "help" from a desperate man, all but prevent Selma, the mother, from succeeding in that ultimate goal. At the same time, the deep affection that a couple of colleagues cannot help but feel for this caring and incredibly positive person mitigates the impossibility of her situation. It's an excellent movie that you must see if you possibly can; it's available through Blockbuster Online, if you're a subscriber to that service.

What I want to write about now are the American societal issues which contribute to Selma's tragedy in the film, which could thus even serve as a powerful - because totally subtle - commentary on those issues. First of all, there is anti-immigrant sentiment, which at the time manifested itself as anti-Communism but is clearly similar to the kind of anti-immigrant sentiment that we see today as well. Selma works in a factory for years - presumably for low wages and without health insurance, of course, which obviously contributes to her dilemma. She therefore must save every cent toward her son's surgery, forcing her to forego even buying him birthday presents - and yet preventing her from telling him (or, really, to be safe, anyone) why. Thus of course she is portrayed as a bad - even a selfish - mother as well. She blames herself anyway for choosing to have the boy, despite knowing that he would have this condition. No wonder her own progresses so quickly.

Her only escape is her fantasy world, in which a famous dancer from her native country replaces her absent father and dance numbers, a la the Hollywood musical, pepper her daily life. Her fantasy world certainly gets her in trouble, but as it is clearly all that she has to help her cope with her very difficult life besides the distant specter of a better situation for her son - on which most real people could not psychologically survive, ideal of motherhood or not - one must forgive her that. In my opinion, the world that allows this woman's life to be this way is also responsible there.

Meanwhile, the patriarchal expectations placed on Selma's neighbor and landlord, Bill (played by David Morse, whom I recognized from The Green Mile), to provide for and continue to impress his spendthrift wife get the better of him, despite a job as a police officer and an inheritance. Notwithstanding the fact that the movie presents his wife, with whom he shares no information about his troubles, as rightfully bearing the blame for his problems through the movie's completely unsympathetic portrayal of her after that point, this plot twist demonstrates the lengths to which a man can feel driven to go to remain a man in society's - and his loved ones' - eyes. In desperation and a few moments of chance, he uses his friendship with Selma and his consequent knowledge of her problems and plans to destroy her life and his own forever. Selma is left unable to be truthful in her own last desperate chance to attempt to achieve the only thing that she can for her son. It's certainly more dramatic than most mothers' day-to-day lives, but most mothers also know how such desperation feels. We as a society - as the United States of America - shouldn't allow anyone to feel that way so unjustly.