Lars Von Trier
‘Breaking The Waves’ (1996) begins director Lars Von Trier’s film trilogy about “holy fools”, specifically about women who sacrifice everything in order to achieve sainthood. Born from radical, nudist Communist parents in Copenhagen, Lars Von Trier carries an underlying theme of exposing art, religion and belief as a form of opiate, and goes against all mainstream film techniques as his response. In ‘Breaking The Waves’, Von Trier challenges the definitions of freedom and authority and exposes how intimately connected these definitions are, proposing us to question the meaning of ‘goodness’ in the world. Set in a strict religious community on the coast of Scotland, an innocently naïve and devout woman, Bess McNeill (Emily Watson) marries a foreigner, Jan Nyman (Stellan Skarsgard), who is paralyzed by an accident and asks Bess to sleep with other men and describe it to him in his hospital bed. As Bess was tranquilized with the patriarchy of the church, this immoral activity of such disobedience to God left Bess’ conscious decaying with sin, resulting in her brutal death.
Bess’ character is constantly surrounded by power structures, she is confronted with the power of love and sex, the power of being loved and pleasing her husband Jan, the power of pleasing her community, and most significantly to her, the power of God. As the viewers, we see the hidden dark side of Beth, filled with guilt for committing sin, constantly trying to appease those around her. Battling between freedom and authority, it is interesting to notice that Von Trier introduces the most vulnerable character to authoritarian power as a pure, young woman of abstinence.
“If there is one of these commandments you do not love, and that you do not obey, you have no place at the Lord’s table.”
“Love is a mighty power… If I die it will be because love cannot keep me alive. I can hardly remember what it’s like to make love. If I forget that, I’ll die.”
Von Trier’s ‘Breaking The Waves’ is a reflection of the grueling critique and rejection that radicalized faith-based moralists see as principles of a life filled with freedom and acceptance. As Lars Von Trier didn’t want to appear hypocritical to his theme of power structures and freedom, he freed the actors to be creative and improvise to expand his screenplay. In addition, cinematographer, Robby Muller used a handheld Super 35mm film camera as part of his CinemaScope technique to add contradiction to the story, generating freedom of movement within broadly lit spaces.