Tuesday, September 9, 2008

MANDERLAY (Lars von Trier, 2005, Denmark) The second film in von Trier's American trilogy: this story takes place shortly after the events of Dogville as Grace and her father serendipitously arrive at a plantation named Manderlay where slavery should have ended seventy years ago. Grace takes it upon herself to free the slaves from their seemingly cruel overseer Mam and help them survive the hostile transition into a New World. But the slaves neither ask nor desire her "help" and everything is more complicated than it seems at first. The moral dilemma in Manderlay is not the acceptance of slavery; we know, grace knows, and the slaves know that slavery is a terrible device of human bondage. grace correctly decides that this system must be abolished. The problems arise in how Grace decides to "help" this fledgling society evolve and flourish. She immediately sets herself up as the replacement to Mam and becomes a new type of overseer. Trier may have intended for this film to be a deeper metaphor concerning American policy in other countries...just substitute Iraq, Vietnam, or Afghanistan for Manderlay and the message becomes clear. Grace's democracy begins to unravel as she learns some important lessons about the human condition, survival, and the axiom concerning good intentions. As Wilhelm says, "Freedom depends on how you look at it". (A)

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