Lars von Trier

b. Lars Trier
b. April 30, 1956, Copenhagen, Denmark

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Lars von Trier: The Little Knight

In Tranceformer: A Portrait of Lars von Trier (Stig Björkman, 1997), a hand-held camera, without any preamble, shows us von Trier as he launches the documentary by stating with a malicious grin, “I’ll gladly assert that everything said or written about me is a lie.”

Lars von Trier telling it how it is.

This statement could be true of the Björkman documentary, this essay and anything von Trier may say about himself in the future. All the same it is a significant caveat for any approach to von Trier and perhaps the only true thing that can be said about him. Later in Tranceformer, he describes his own life as a fabrication, yet his long-time producer, Peter Jensen, says that he never lies. This paradox can be resolved, however, once we accept that von Trier’s life and work are offered to the world as a seamless fictional whole and that all fiction is fabrication and subject to multiple interpretations. His editor and film school partner, Tomas Gislason, describes him as “a…playful rascal.” (1) His lead in two films, Ernst-Hugo Jaeregard, offers that he is an “absolute opponent to all kinds of intellectual authority.” Von Trier describes himself and his work as “a provocation.” Peter Jensen says, “his loyalty is also of a Middle Ages order. He’s a knight. A little knight.” This last assessment provides a key to reading the text that is von Trier: he is an idealist and a believer who suffers the pangs of true belief and who constantly ’tilts’ for his ideals. In contrast to Ingmar Bergman, whose films are about the angst of the unbeliever and the yearning to believe, von Trier’s films are all about the angst of the believer and wanting to not believe.

Lars Trier (He added ‘von’ in the tradition of Eric von Stroheim) was born April 30, 1956 in Copenhagen to what Lucia Bozzola describes as “radical, nudist Communist parents.” (2) Speaking of his childhood, von Trier recollects:

According to me, I was too free, as it is such a cause of anxieties …I missed the love an authority with definite parameters can bring, because that is a form of love.

As a child, von Trier was under the impression that everything was permitted except “feelings, religion and enjoyment”, three things his films would deliver in spades in his later rebellion. At age 11 he began to make short films with his mother’s Super 8 camera, and a year later he starred in the Scandinavian television series Clandestine Summer (1968). Left to his own devices, he dropped in and out of school, drank wine and watched movies. By the time he entered Copenhagen’s film school in the early ’80s he “…knew all the film classics. Knew them by heart,” according to Gislason. Von Trier describes himself as an enfant terrible during this period.

Listening to him talk about his films, one senses that in school he developed a lifelong delight in breaking conventions and rules. He made the early films work despite (or because of) opaque story-lines, self-conscious voiceovers, and unusual manipulations of sound and image. Still, in the later films we are startled with drifting, hand-held cameras and improvised dialogue and blocking, not to mention soap-opera histrionics, uncomfortably real sex and art stills inserted into the narrative. His mother’s death, which he speaks of with a sense of relief, seems to have been a turning point in his life. Even as he personally embraced the formality of Catholicism, his films went “low church” striving for spontaneity, speed and improvisation in contrast to his obsessively controlled early films. Borrowing “high church” language, he helped create the ironically named Dogme School, the film equivalent of punk rock. In yet another paradox, even as he rejected his parent’s communism, he used it, with producer Peter Jensen, as a basis for their own film collective, thus wresting control of film production away from the Danish government. Although his films are a complex dialogic extension of his own paradoxical nature, in general they follow the trajectory of T.S. Eliot, first depicting the wasteland and then transcending it with faith.

Von Trier’s first three films – all presented in dazzling, baroque virtuosity – are a trilogy about a Europe that has been lulled to sleep in the midst of its own chaos and death. In all three films the hero (or anti-hero) is an idealist who wades confidently into a stinking quagmire, determined to right all wrongs, but, as von Trier points out, “you can be sure that when they’ve done the right thing, it’s gone wrong and they also did it badly.” Von Trier repeatedly discovers that it is impossible to address evil without perpetuating it, a sin he maliciously passes on to the viewer.

The Element of Crime

In a creative mix of Kafka and Borges, The Element of Crime (1984) is a tale of labyrinthine absurdity in which Fisher, a symbolically named detective, becomes Harry Gray, the serial killer he is pursuing. Fisher’s downfall is the result of his unquestioning belief in the book on criminology written by Osborne, his ailing professor. “I cannot stop until I understand. I must do things by the book,” Fisher tells his prostitute partner, Kim, who replies that she cannot follow him that far. The hypnotist/narrator who has led him into this nightmare Europe says, “I’m afraid you leave me behind too, Harry” (calling him by the killer’s name). Indeed, his blind faith in the method leaves us all behind because he becomes an evil child killer as a result. Among other things, The Element of Crime is von Trier’s critique of fundamentalism of all sorts (religious, political, artistic) and of his ironic, self-loathing view of his own film-school skill. Without showing any graphic violence or carnage, he uses jaundiced color and flooded, ruined sets to create the most menacing and horrific environment in recent memory.

His second film Epidemic (1987) is not available in the U.S. and this is a shame because it is a brilliant and beautiful film. Also, it is as clear a statement as we’re likely to get of von Trier’s philosophy of film and his working methods as he attempts to apply his theories. Von Trier and Niels Voersel (co-writer on Element, Zentropa & Kingdom I & II), playing themselves, write a screenplay about a character called Dr. Mesmer, who seeks to cure an epidemic, unaware that it is he who is spreading it. This is rendered beautifully in the film within the film. This continues until, via a hypnotized girl, it is spread to the writers themselves (fiction coming alive and entering reality) and the producer to whom they are pitching their screenplay to. In Epidemic we see the director’s two distinct styles; on the one hand there are the breathtakingly composed shots for the film within the film, yet also present are the hand-held cameras, natural light and a five-day improvised script for the story about the writers. We learn about von Trier’s phobias (underground structures, flying, illness, hospitals), his ideological obsessions (idealism, truth, individualism), his writing methods (outlining on walls, ironic referencing, utilising his own pain and that of others) and his aesthetics. He consciously stacks elements in his films against one another – stirring Wagner music to accompany the spread of the plague, sincerity cut with cynicism and vice versa. We learn that he is never literal, always metaphorical, and though always sincere, he is also always kidding, a vulnerable, self-protecting stance common among this generation of filmmakers (i.e. Jarmusch, Linklater, Tykwer, Aronofsky). In a sense, Epidemic is a documentary about himself.

Made for Danish Television, Medea (1988) creates a similar atmosphere of brooding malaise through its visualization of the dark heart of the witch, Medea. In it, von Trier improves on the Euripides play (presumably with Carl Dreyer’s posthumous help) by avoiding the deus ex machina and by telling the story (in a style more visual than narrative) of the witch who murders her own children. Jason’s nubile new bride Glauce, given a name and a voice, becomes a central (and frequently naked) character, though she is barely present in the original play. When one of Medea’s children assists in his own brutal hanging, a key autobiographical theme is highlighted, namely that children are being sacrificed for the selfish desires of adults. Many of Element‘s images (blowing sheets, dead horses, deathly water) are reprised in Medea. Perhaps his most beautiful and elegant film, it is currently a lost treasure, largely unavailable in the U.S. except for occasional runs on cable.


Zentropa (1991), the film that first caught the world’s attention, is about a young American who works on a post-WWII German sleeping car as a gesture of ‘non-involved’ pacifist goodwill, but ends up furthering the evil plans of others with his every move. Frequently critics dismiss this film as a calculating, academic exercise but I feel that beneath the Wellesian virtuosity is a seething emotional attack against U.S. foreign policy and a somnambulant, complicit Europe. Also, it is a romantic cry of impotent rage and despair. The stunning visual juxtapositions constantly highlight the story. The protagonist Leo and (through the ominous, direct addressing of the audience by the hypnotist narrator) the viewer are drifting in and out of a Kafkaesque dream; black and white for dream state, color for waking. Zentropa is about a Europe on the verge of waking up from an evil nightmare, and although it is about the post-war reconstruction of Germany, it feels like it is about the consumption-induced stupor of the present. Interestingly, it depicts a Roman Catholic Church cooperating with Nazis, the same church von Trier would join a few years later.

The Kingdom (1994), a tour-de-farce television mini-series about a hunted hospital, effected the translation of von Trier from one film persona to another. It is an extended satirical critique of the hubris of reason and the denial of the spiritual. Although I am skipping over it lightly here, I recommend it as a good starting place for appreciating the von Trier oeuvre because the story is fairly straightforward (though not conventional) and the shocks are minor (excluding the eye-wrenching shocks at the ends of both parts I and II). The Vonnegut-like black humor is also very effective and funny, especially in the second season which is currently unavailable. In The Kingdom we see von Trier moving from formalism to a kind of dogmatic informalism.

Breaking the Waves (1996) begins his trilogy about holy fools, women who sacrifice everything and achieve sainthood. Jan, a foreigner to the strict Scottish community and paralysed by an accident, asks his simple-minded and pious wife, Bess, to sleep with other men and tell him about it, an activity which results in her brutal death. Von Trier’s newfound religious emphasis, however, did not make his vision any more positive. With reference to The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Anderson, von Trier remarked:

I have a troll’s shard in my eye…I remember there is a boy who at some stage gets a troll shard in his eye and sees things ugly.

Bess (Emily Watson) and Dodo (Katrin Cartlidge) in Breaking the Waves.

However, von Trier has gone beyond seeing ugly; he may be a troll himself, planting shards in our eyes. Perhaps this is needed at a time when European cinema is trying to compete with Hollywood’s lucrative sentimentality. Breaking the Waves has probably violated everyone’s sensibilities in one way or another, but that it is a masterful work of high artistic achievement is usually admitted. The cheers and boos with which it was received at Cannes reminds us that civilization prefers its geniuses dead and safely museumed. A latent theme in his earlier work is now made explicit – religion (and, more specifically, belief) is not just a crutch or an opiate, it is also a terrible burden and a terrifying mystery. However, the irony is also here, for what is Jan but an evil-minded director asking his ‘actor’ to do terrible things for his pleasure?

This theme and this irony are disturbingly present in The Idiots (1998) in which the lead spazz, Stoffer, ‘directs’ a group of peers pretending to be retarded in public (surely a satirical conceit of movie-making?) which eventually leads to a (now notorious) orgy and Stoffer’s challenge to his ‘idiots’ to take their spazzing home to their real lives. At this last request, all of them balk except for Karen, the ‘golden heart’ of this film, who spazzes in the presence of grieving family members. The orgy scene is mostly silly and strikes me as von Trier poking fun at communes (remember, he was raised in one and currently works closely with another) (3). Karen’s spazz at home is, on the other hand, profoundly disturbing, essentially making the same point as the climax of Epidemic. In it we learn that she has already broken a basic societal norm by running away at the death of her child; then we watch her drool and spazz in front of her grief-stricken family, continuing the silly game (which for her has become real) in the worst possible circumstance. Anyone who accuses von Trier of making fun of retarded people, in my opinion, doesn’t really see the point of the film. He is making fun of himself and yearning for an escape from reason, just like every romantic since William Blake. Of the three ‘saints’ Karen is by far the most troubled as she seems to have no ideals or pure motives that explain her incredibly hurtful, symbolic self-immolation.

Selma Jezkova (Björk) in Dancer In the Dark

Dancer In the Dark (2000) has no explicit sex or violence, but it certainly provides no relief for the sensitive. As we watch Selma move from one torment to another for the sake of her son, we feel emotionally violated, a sentiment that Björk, the mercurial star of Dancer, is reported to have also felt during production. As a musical, (in emotional tenor, it is more an opera) it is unique. Not only are Björk’s musical numbers and von Trier’s method of capturing them different from anything else we’ve heard or seen, unlike most musicals, the set pieces provide little relief. Like a Greek chorus, they function as an analysis and commentary on the action of the story which is heart-breaking melodrama from beginning to end. Unlike Bess and Karen, Selma’s goodness completely captures our sympathy, so it is difficult to watch her suffering with any detachment. Thus, it is von Trier’s most intimate film, a feeling his handheld camera encourages.

At one point in Björkman’s Tranceformer, von Trier, shaking his firsts in trembling frustration, says that the worst betrayal of all is the betrayal of one’s ideals, and it is clear that he has personally experienced this betrayal. He demonstrates, from Element to Dancer, that being an idealist does not mean imparting a rosy, unrealistic view of things. In Element, Epidemic, Zentropa, Medea and The Kingdom, the protagonists are idealists who are so helpless in living out their ideals that they actually end up being a catalyst for evil rather than an ameliorative factor. In Breaking, Idiots and Dancer, the female saints may ‘deny themselves’ as the gospel tells us to, but all do so in a decidedly un-Christian way – the saint as adulterer, anarchist and murderer. Like all great artists, von Trier practices an aesthetic that transcends categories so his work cannot be reduced to anyone’s message, not even his own. Like a knight of old, his causes may grow cloudy and his wounds may be sometimes self-inflicted, but he will fight on anyway, until the last dragon is slain, even the dragon within.

Dogville: an addendum

Allegory is back. Reportage from Cannes this year paired George Lucas’ political allegory (Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith) with von Trier’s (Mandalay). This parallel presentation of art and entertainment is something of a culmination of the past 20 years. In cinema, the last great period of realism of character, setting, and story occurred in the late 1970s, and since the early ’80s, film culture has been creeping back into the medieval realm of broad characters who serve to illustrate ideas, values and types. Hollywood first sounded the new note with Star Wars, and now it seems that nearly everybody, even those not working within the Hollywood system, is playing in the same style. Much of this work is guilty of what allegory has always been accused of – simplistic obviousness, lack of subtlety, pedantry, irrelevant fantasy and absolutism, just to name a few of allegory’s traditional sins. Some of the more famous allegories (Pilgrim’s Progress, Everyman, Aesop’s fables) can stand accused, but allegory doesn’t have to be simple and obvious as Dante, Chaucer and Blake taught us long ago. In Dogville (2003), Lars von Trier took cinematic allegory to its logical conclusion and reminded us that it can be (and should be) complex, subtle, dialectical, real and open to multiple readings.

Dogville has been frequently compared to Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, but it reminds me more of the brilliantly complex allegories of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville. In many of their tales, it is obvious that the characters represent specific ideas, but when we begin to read the tales on an ideological level, their meaning cannot be determined with any certainty. This may be bad religion and bad politics, but it is great art. For example, we know that in Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown”, the titular character represents innocence and that his wife, Faith, represents, well, his faith, but what happens in the woods with the devil is inconclusive, as is the final denouement. In Melville’s Moby Dick, the white whale is God, and Ahab pursues him to his own death but what does that mean? Von Trier is also working in the realm of complex religious allegory. Tom Edison (Paul Bettany) is Tom Sawyer (note the novel prominently displayed in Edison Senior’s [Philip Baker Hall] hands) and the American inventor. Grace (Nicole Kidman) is God’s sacramental grace come to Dogville. She becomes “eyes for McCay, a mother for Ben, a friend for Vera, brains for Bill” and reacts to the abuses of the town as only a saint could. However, when we try to interpret Dogville, we find ourselves in the realm of undecidability. This is a good thing. In his afterwards to The Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco tells us:

I would define the poetic effect as the capacity that a text displays for continuing to generate different readings, without ever being completely consumed.

I think that Dogville certainly has this “poetic effect”.

Von Trier went out of his way to ask for a non-literal reading of his film, with its artificial set, British-style narration and ritualistically formal acting and dialogue. Nevertheless, many American reviewers reacted with literal-minded fundamentalism (much like the Islamic fundamentalists reacted to Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses). Roger Ebert is a telling example of America’s post-Trade Centre attack jingoism. In his review of Dogville, he claims that von Trier “approaches the ideological subtlety of a raving prophet on a street corner.” Ebert goes on to reveal his own inability to perceive subtlety when he writes “I doubt that we [Americans] have any villages where the helpless visitor would eventually be chained to a bed and raped by every man in town.” In my view this is an impossibly literal reading of the film and an assumption that the presentation of the town Dogville is an attempt to realistically portray America. Also, many reviewers seem to be caught up in the fact that Von Trier has never been to America, so “how dare he say anything about us!” In an interview at Cannes Film Festival 2005, the filmmaker articulated his defense and how he and many others in the rest of the world feel:

America is sitting on our world. I am making films that have to do with America [because] 60% of my life is America. So I am in fact an American, but I can’t go there to vote, I can’t change anything. I am an American, so that is why I make films about America.


A quick scan of reviews reveals just how complex and subtle Dogville actually is. James Berardinelli, on his website Reelviews, muses, “What does it all mean? The film is cleverly developed so that there are at least two apparent interpretations” and goes on to suggest that Grace could either represent the oppressed masses or North America, as in the formerly exploited and now oppressing North America. Stephen Holden of The New York Times reads it as “depicting as a lie the ideal of embracing human community (and especially the cozy, cookie-baking dream of small-town America)” and that its message is “that good people are resented for their virtue.” Elbert Ventura of Allmovie.com, says that it “comments on the essential hypocrisy and meanness of America” but that the end-credit photo montage presented to the tune of David Bowie’s “Young Americans” asks for “a more limited reading.”

If I may join in the fun, I’d like to offer two more “readings” that by no mean cancel out the above interpretations. That is the pleasure of art. Firstly, I think the film is meant to illustrate an aphorism of Saint Isaac the Syrian (whether or not von Trier has read Saint Isaac). In Homily 51, Saint Isaac says, “As grass and fire cannot coexist in one place, justice and mercy cannot abide in one soul.” Saint Isaac refers to the human soul, of course, because within the Christian tradition God is always both a God of justice and a God of mercy. It seems to me that von Trier, as a Roman Catholic, is meditating on the face of justice presented in the Old Testament and the face of mercy presented in the New Testament. Along with this biblical theme, the film continues his obsession with persecuted women. Frequently accused of misogyny in his films, he explains to Newsweek that this is not the case. His heroines, he says, are infused with his own experiences. “Those characters are not women, not female at all,” he says. “They are self-portraits.” Why does von Trier use women as his stand-ins, the literal-minded may ask? Vibeke Windelov, his producer explains:

In society, women are allowed to express more, emotionally, verbally. Think how rare it is for a male in a movie to say and do all the things women say and do in Lars’s films.

Layering this factor into his meditation, the end of Dogville could be interpreted as von Trier (with Grace as his avatar) struggling to acquire the virtue of mercy while trying to understand how mercy relates to justice. Finally, perhaps, he mistakes the passion of vengeance for the virtue of justice.

Secondly, perhaps Dogville represents Denmark, Scandinavia, Europe and the rest of the world. After all, a British-style narrator presents us with a town (he refers to it constantly as a township; I’ve never heard an American say that) that has socialist, secular services of moral rearmament, a town whose people discuss stoicism, give their children names out of Homer, engage in fertility rites, and write Latin graffiti on the mine entrance. None of this seems at all characteristic of Americans. Further, they are relatively poor, compared to the gangsters, I mean. What if Grace and her gangster family are the Americans? What if the people of Dogville are only the “young Americans”? After all, the people of the world are all becoming young Americans now in the face of an ever-expanding American Empire. How does that scan? Americans send some of our people overseas to “help” and we are used and abused in return. But watch out, von Trier warns, America will show up and destroy you all someday. Like Randy Newman sang with great cynicism many years ago:

We give them money – but are they grateful?
No, they’re spiteful and they’re hateful
They don’t respect us – so let’s surprise them

We’ll drop the big one and pulverise them…. They all hate us anyhow
So let’s drop the big one now

Have we all become so “Sithian” in our absolutes that we are now incapable of understanding the figurative? Incapable of considering multiple points of view? Have the fundamentalist terrorists reduced us to a jingoistic tribalism of our own? I see Lars von Trier as a modern-day Dostoevsky. Like the Russian novelist, he may be reactionary, neurotic and anti-modern, but he presents us with an artistic canvas of dialectic complexity capable of resonating in interesting ways with mature and educated minds.

© Thomas Beltzer, August 2002
Addendum © 2005 Thomas Beltzer



Films directed by von Trier:

Befrielsesbilleder (1983) (Documentary)

The Element of Crime (Forbrydelsens Element) (1984)

Epidemic (1987)

Medea (1988)

Zentropa (1992) (title in U.S and Australia, known as Europa elsewhere)

The Kingdom (Riget) (1994) (Made for television)

Catherine Deneuve, Björk and Lars von Trier on set

Breaking the Waves (1996)

The Kingdom II (Riget II) (1997)

The Idiots (Idioterne) (1998)

Dancer in the Dark (2000)

Dogville (projected release 2002)

Dogville (2003)

The Five Obstructions (De fem benspæn) (2003) co-directed with Jørgen Leth

Manderlay (2005)

The Boss of It All (2006)

Antichrist (2009)

Melancholia (2011)

Nymphomaniac (2013)

The House That Jack Built (2018)


Film about von Trier:

Tranceformer – A Portrait of Lars von Trier (1997) Directed by Stig Björkman. Available on The Element of Crime DVD

Select Bibliography


Hall, Edith, Macintosh, Fiona & Taplin, Oliver (eds), “Medea” in Performance, 1500-2000, Oxford University Press: European Humanities Research Centre, 2000

Stevenson, Jack, Lars von Trier, University of California Press. To be published September 2002

Von Trier, Lars, Breaking the Waves, Faber & Faber, 1996

___________, Dancer in the Dark, MacMillan Pub Ltd., 2001


Arroyo J., “How Do You Solve a Problem like von Trier? Lars von Trier’s anti-musical”, Sight & Sound, Vol. 10, Issue 9 (September 2000), p.14

Björkman, Stig, “Juggling In the Dark”, Sight & Sound, Vol. 9, Issue 12 (December 1999), p.8

___________, “Making Waves” (interview), Village Voice, Vol. 41, Issue 48 (November 26, 1996) p.74

___________, “Naked Miracles”, Sight & Sound, Vol. 6, Issue 10 (October 1996) p.10

Comuzio, E., “Fear Engulfs the Soul: The Films of Lars von Trier”, Cineforum, Vol. 38, Issue 8 (October 1998), p.95

_________, “Lars von Trier: Cinema Reinvented”, Cineforum, Vol. 38, Issue 10 (December 1999), p.96

Cooper, Rand Richards, “Dark & Darker”, Commonweal, Vol. 127, Issue 19 (November 3, 2000) p.20

Cornwell, Jane, “Björk Goes Berserk”, Bulletin With Newsweek, Vol. 118, Issue 6254 (December 12, 2000), p.90

Durbin, Karen, “Making the Waves”, New York Times Magazine, Vol. 149, Issue 51374 (April 30, 2000) p.42

Fornara, B., “Lars von Trier”, Cineforum, Vol. 39, Issue 9 (November 1999), p.72

Greene, Mark, “An Archetypal Analysis of Numinosum In Breaking the Waves”, Mythosphere, Vol. 1, Issue 4 (October 1999), p.545

Hampton, Howard, “Cannes Men”, Artforum International, Vol. 37, Issue 3 (November 1998), p.19

______________, “Wetland”, Film Comment, Vol. 31, Issue 6 (November/December 1995), p.40

Kaplan, Ben, “The Prince of Denmark”, New York, Vol. 34, Issue 13 (April 2, 2001), p.81

Kennedy, J., “Go Deeper”, Film Comment, Vol. 27, Issue 4 (July/August 1991), p.68

Mesnil, M., “Long Live Europe: Trier, Lars von, Godard, Jean-Luc and Ruiz, Raoul”, Esprit, Number 10 (October 1995), p.5

Niogret, H., Tobin, Y., & Cartlidge, K., “Discipline and chaos from Mike Leigh to Lars von Trier: Conversation with actress Katrin Cartlidge”, Positif, Issue 473-74 (July/August 2000), p.75

Pitassio, F., “Tranceformer: a Portrait of Lars von Trier, Björkman, S.”, Cineforum, 37, Issue 7 (September 1997), p.53

Rafferty, Terrence, “Mad Love”, The New Yorker, Vol. 72, Issue 35 (November 18, 1996), p.123

Restuccia, Frances L., “Impossible Love in Breaking the Waves: Mystifying Hysteria”, Literature & Psychology, Vol. 47, Issue 1/2 (2001), p.34

Rockwell, J., “Lars von Trier, Bayreuth and The Ring: The Danish film director stages Wagner’s tetralogy in 2006”, Opera, Vol. 43, Issue 1 (January 2002), p.30

Rogerts, John, “Dogma 95”, New Left Review, Issue 238 (November./December 1999)

Smith Gavin, “Imitation of Life: An Interview with Lars von Trier”, Film Comment, Vol 36, Issue 5 (September/October 2000), p.25

__________, “Before the Revolution”, Film Comment, Vol. 36, Issue 5 (September/October 2000), p.2

Taylor, Elayne, “Dancing In Denmark: Elayne Taylor Talks with Lars von Trier”, Creative Screenwriting, Vol. 8, Issue 1 (January/February 2001), p.32

Wall, James M., “Paradoxical Goodness”, Christian Century, Vol 114, Issue 5 (February 5, 1997), p.115

Zwick, Steve, “Lights, Camera, Family”, Time Atlantic, Vol. 155, Issue 19 (May 15, 2000), p.40

Articles in Senses of Cinema

Dancer in the Dark by Rhys Graham

The Prodromic Institution of Spass: The Idiots by Gregory Little

“Colorado Death Trip”: The Surrealist Recontextualisation of Farm Security Administration Photos in Dogville by Holger Römers

On the Nature of Dogs, the Right of Grace, Forgiveness and Hospitality: Derrida, Kant, and Lars Von Trier’s Dogville by Adam Atkinson

Web Resources

Compiled by the author and Albert Fung

Tranceformer: A Portrait of Lars von Trier.
Brief article on the documentary film.

Lars von Trier
Fan Site. Has an excellent series of interviews with von Trier.

Lars von Trier Web Space
Great tribute page.

Lars von Trier
Danish site on von Trier. Includes picture gallery and wave file in Danish.

Film Directors: Articles on the Internet
Links to several articles on von Trier. (Scroll to bottom of page)

Artistic and Intellectual Confusion in Lars von Trier’s The Idiots
World Socialist Web Site article.

Lars von Trier x6
Article in Filmosophy on the aesthetics of six von Trier films.

More Barnum than Dada?
An essay “questioning the validity of Dogme 95”.

Von Trier Boosts Euro Campaign.
Brief article in BBC News about von Trier’s pro-euro campaign film.

Lars von Trier - Hello...? Mum...you there...?

Dancer in the Dark
Dancer in the Dark page.

A Lars von Trier forum.

We are all sinners
An interview with von Trier about the perfect Dogme film.

Interview: Lars von Trier Comes Out of the Dark
IndieWIRE interview with von Trier about Dancer in the Dark.

Dogme 95 official web site

Zentropa Homepage
Link to production company Zentropa.

Danish Film Institute

Want to buy a copy of his films?

Click here to search for Lars von Trier DVDs, videos and books at


  1. Quoted in Stig Björkman’s Tranceformer – A Portrait of Lars von Trier (1997). All quotations in this essay, unless noted, are from this documentary.
  2. Quotation taken from http://www.allmovie.com/cg/avg.dll?p=avg&sql=B118403
  3. Peter Jensen, his long time producer, lives in a commune where resources are shared. Various film projects are funded from this common pool. Steve Zwick’s article in Time Atlantic (see end of the bibliography) discusses the unique financial arrangements but doesn’t get into lifestyle matters. However, it is made clear that von Trier lives at home with a very supportive wife while Jensen lives in the commune.

About The Author

Thomas Beltzer is the author of Antojitos: Little Cravings (Edwin Mellen Press, 2000). He currently lives in Fredericksburg, Texas and teaches at Austin Community College.

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