A tidal wave of emotions
Breaking The Waves
Directed by Lars Von Trier
Starring Emily Watson and Stellan Skarsgard
At the New Yorker, Tuesday 9 p.m., Wednesday 9:30 p.m. and Thursday 6:30 p.m.
Breaking the Waves is a love story manifested in the extreme actions of one character and the intentions of many more. The setting is sometime in the '70s in a European community of severe authoritarian Calvinists who oppose the outside world.
The movie opens to immediate conflict when naive and innocent Bess (Emily Watson) marries an outsider, Jan, portrayed by Stellan Skarsgard (Wind), who works on one of the oil rigs out at sea. The movie begins to develop when Jan is injured on the rig to the point of paralysis and Bess begins to think the injury is the result of her selfish prayers for Jan to return to land.
The movie follows Bess through eight chapters of her life with rich literary and film devices adding layers of depth. As dialogue is kept low, many items take on a multifaceted symbolic nature. Even the dividing of chapters is done with symbolic pictures and significant sections of '70s music. In chapter five the audience hears, "And you know that she's half crazy/ But that's why you want to be there." A pure expression of the situation.
Bess's embodiment of innocence is the essence of Breaking the Waves. She is the susceptible reservoir where the conflicting forces come together. Through the confluence of these forces the audience empathizes with Bess. Using dialogue sparingly, Bess conveys a pure and free innocent child through expressions of the face, eyes and body. Her emotions are always on the brink of overflowing and express so much more than any dialogue could.
The conflicting forces Bess must come to terms with are the results of relationships she has relationships with herself, Jan, her friend, mother, community, religion and God. Lars Von Trier uses the fascinating device of having Bess talk to God in order to reveal the thoughts and dispositions of both Bess and of God, as the latter talks back through Bess. As one may expect, when God speaks, Bess fervently listens and responds.
It is here that Bess learns of love and the soul of a union in a higher being. And it is also here where Bess develops her intricate sacrificial connection with Jan. Soon after his injury, Jan tells Bess their love requires her to engage in sexual acts with other men in order to hold the relationship together. This is cast off by many characters as perverse but there is an odd symbolic logic involved that forces one to confront the idea.
Breaking the Waves is a powerfully impressive movie that beckons to be seen again and to be thought about. Richly complex and portrayed with grace, Breaking the Waves is an early choice for top movie of the year. Its emotional intensity eclipses all disbeliefs, taking you on a temporal journey of vast proportions.