Wednesday, July 1, 2009
Breaking the Waves (1996)
By Eric Jessen 7/1/09
Breaking the Waves is a courageous work of art. Its director, Lars Von Trier, delves into the deepest and most murky areas of the human heart and mind. He questions our spirituality and morality. He explores his character's most hidden emotions. As an audience we are never really ready or comfortable watching a movie like Breaking the Waves, because we are not used to hearing the innermost thought of people. But in the end, Breaking the Waves is refreshing and satisfying. He challenges us as human beings and makes us think about our own hidden emotions. In Breaking the Waves Lars, Von Trier is putting his talents to good use. It is evident that Trier understands his characters and connects with them. Although he exposes their faults he believes that they are capable of goodness.
Breaking the Waves, like any Trier movie, is an intense experience. It is thought provoking and asks difficult moral and spiritual questions. We meet a soon to be married couple Bess (Emily Watson) and Jan (Stellan Skarsgard). Bess is credulous and emotionally unstable. After she and Jan are married, Jan has to leave to work on an oil rig in the middle of the ocean. While Jan is away Bess becomes distraught and starts speaking with God. She pleads with God to bring Jan home. She says “Oh please, won't you send him home” and she replies to herself, closing her eyes and speaking in a deeper voice, “are you sure that's what you want?” Then she says tentatively, in her normal voice, “Yes.” When Jan is forced to come home because he is paralyzed in an accident, Bess believes the accident is her fault for asking God to bring Jan home. While Jan is in the hospital he asks Bess to make a sacrifice for him. He says to Bess “I want you to find a man to make love to, and then come back here and tell me about it. It will feel like you and me being together again. That will keep me alive.” Bess believes that is her duty to obey her husband. She becomes delusional and starts sleeping with strange and dangerous men. She is doing it out of love for her husband and she believes it will make him better. She also believes that she must make this sacrifice to prove her love for her husband.
The essential moral question Breaking the Waves asks is, has Bess sinned if she believes everything she has done is out of love and is God's will? It also asks whether her strong spirituality is helpful or a detriment to her recovery. Bess says God gives everyone one talent and that hers is that “I believe.” She is unwilling to let anyone, doctors or her loyal friend played by Katrin Cartlidge, help her because she thinks God is watching over her. As a result she takes unnecessary risks to prove her love to Jan, and it leads to her demise.
Lars Von Trier is a talented director. I commend him for being bold and taking chances. Sometimes his risk taking result in failure, such as in Dogville, but in the case of Breaking the Waves the result is a huge success.