Perception Essay

Investigating the themes of identity , alienation and ideology in the film movie: Dogville (2003).


Anastasios-Odyssefs Ntinopoulos Perception BA (Hons) CG Arts and Animation Year 1 University For The Creative Arts, Rochester Lead unit tutor: Chris Hunt Word count:1668 Submission Date: 12th December 2011


Introduction: Main Body: Conclusion: Illustration List: Bibliography:

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Introduction: Perception is the process of awareness and understanding by humans. Perception through art is always different to everyone and really ambiguous. Art is being understood in many different and various ways by people. Most times art wants to depict and to express specific ideas and themes In the film industry directors want to ensure that their film will be fully understood by the audience but there are some exceptions with some films being different from other ones. Which makes them interesting and brilliant pieces of art to study and deeply analyze the aspects of the perception we perceive from them. Many film makers use ideology and symbolism in their movies for specific reasons. They pass their ideas and ideologies through the audience with their techniques. This essay will explore and will focus in one particular film Dogville (2003) directed by Lars von Trier. The film is really interesting for its ideas and particularly for its techniques that have been used to film it. Extremely unusual sets, different ideas and meanings in the film make it a masterpiece which worth discussing and analyzing about it. Also some comparisons and some examples will be given from other films in order to be fully understood. Semiotics , ideology , some specific effects and techniques are used in “Dogville”. I will use resources from the books: Self and Identity : Fundamental Issues, Theatre and Consciousness, Performing Brecht, Visual Perception : An Introduction and some definitions. Main Body:

The way we perceive the form of identity “Identity is not stable or rational, but an ever-conflicted tension between id and ego, conscious and subconscious mind.” (Freud, Sigmund) The way we perceive the identity and the personalities of the people of Dogville is based in a variety of factors.

“Figure 1” The different personalities in the town of Dogville.

“Figure 2” The people of the town of Dogville.

Every individual perceives the identity of the other differently. The way that we have constructed our identity and our self makes us to construct the others identity in a way that is familiar and 3

logic for us. We first construct our self with the factors and the things we have received and processed as familiar from the society and from our sources. Familiar sources for us is our family, our friends our personal experiences. Every people in Dogville town is seem different to everyone because everybody has a different way and a different perception of how understands and sets the identity of the other. As Ashmore points out (1997:11): “Self and identity are crucial to making sense of the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of individuals.” It can be agreed because as I said before we first construct our identity and our way in perceiving things and then we can understand and perceive others people identity. Also identity can be released from social bindings. The way that people are dressed and from what is their society status construct for the audience a different identity for everyone in the town. In our situation consumerism does not play a key factor in the town’s people of Dogville because the time in the movie is set in an old time. Although in modern societies consumerism is a crucial thing that sets the identity of people which is very misleading but it’s still a very crucial thing that sets identity in modern societies.
Consumerism: Attachment to materialistic values or possessions. (, 2011)

Another good example of perceiving the identity of the other is in the movie Fight Club. The audience cannot distinguish the different identity of the leading role actor of the movie. The two different identities are secretly hidden in the individual where we understand it in the end. It’s really interesting how the person who has a split personality perceives and understand the other identity of his self as a different person in the film. The audience is also “confused” with the double personality.

“Figure 3” The “double” identity of the main actor in the Movie: Fight Club.

“Figure 4” The split personality actor in the Movie: Fight Club.

The same thing happens in this movie. Because of the way we have perceived the things that have been shown in the movie as two different identities we believe until the end where everything is revealed that there are two different identities in the movie. It’s because of the way we have perceived and the things have been shown and our self and mind automatically and subconsciously distinguish it as two different persons. It’s really interesting how and in which 4

way things can be shown that can set and destine our mind. Reality and things that can be completely wrong and misleading sometimes destine the identity of the other in our mind subconsciously. This is how the human consciousness works in modern societies most times. Special effects and techniques In Dogville we can observe the unusual set as being an audience. The whole set is an empty studio with an extremely minimal stage. The stage is articulated only by painted lines on the floor and a few scattered objects, which represent the town in its entirety. The audience is successfully affected by this technique-special effect used in purpose from the director. The “alienation” or distancing effect is being used in order to discourage and distance the audience from the characters.
Alienation effect: “It involves the use of techniques designed to distance the audience from emotional involvement in the play through jolting reminders of the artificiality of the theatrical performance.” (2011,

In our situation the set creates an illusion to the audience, the audience is plunged into an illusion, in something completely fictional.

“Figure 5” The empty stage of the film “Dogville”

“Figure 6” The illusion set of the film “Dogville”

“The actor does not allow himself to become completely transformed on the stage into the character.” (Dinkgräfe, 2005:68). It can be agreed that the actors during the distancing effect are not fully transformed on the stage but still their performance effects the audience as it should effect it with a real set scene. Although the actors seem “weird” and strange in a kind of set like that still they achieve the best with their performance. The audience can observe the actors and their performance although the stage can be fully fictional and “empty”. It’s amazing how the audience gives in to that illusion and still can observe the movie being attached to the performances of the actors. After the audience have been familiarized with the unfamiliar set the movie is as normal as it would be if it had a real stage set. The distancing or alienation effect technique has been introduced by the epic theatre playwright Bertolt Brecht. He has used this technique in his plays. Also this effect can be seen in traditional Chinese theatre. In the dramatic theatre the alienation effect has been introduced by Stanislavski.


“Figure 7” Brecht play: “The Caucasian chalk circle” using the alienation effect

“Distancing effect’ promotes the notion that Brecht meant the audience to be detached from their feelings during a performance.” (Eddershay, 1996:16). It is likely that the audience during the distancing effect is being detached from its feelings because of the illusion that is being created by the performance. It’s normal not to give in in your feelings when you are a viewer in something completely fake and something which is fictional and an illusion in reality. Although the fact that the audience is kind of detached from its feelings it doesn’t mean that the movie is detached from reality. The movie still passes it’s messages and it’s ideologies successfully using this kind of effect. Ideology and symbolism Ideology is often and most times perceived through art. Different meanings and ideological messages pass through the audience and through their experience and incentives they take through art. The movie “Dogville” passes its own ideology to the individual giving different meanings to everyone who sees it. Furthermore symbolism can be viewed in the movie which adds some meanings in the ideas that are being viewed through the whole movie. This is achieved by specific facts and incidents in the movie. Symbolism can be felt in the movie. There is a psychological connection with symbolism that makes it visible to the audience. In the end of the movie we can observe a massacre through the whole town by the mobs. The whole action symbolizes revenge through the sinful people of the town against the newcomer. Also the action that they have put chains to “Grace” (leading actor in Dogville) symbolizes the captivity of the stronger to the weak. The chains are a symbol of captivity. These are some symbols that can be felt to the audience during the movie.


“Figure 8” The killing of the town people in Dogville

“Figure 9” Grace being “captivated” with chains

The whole society of the town can pass the idea that depicts the new modern corrupted societies where everything is repaid with a cost. The idea of the corrupted society and the greedy people is being passed through the audience during the whole movie. The ideology of revenge against the corruption and the greedy people is what the movie offers you in the end. Ideology and symbolism is one of the main things that a piece of art wants to pass to its audience. Ideology differs and everyone can perceive ideology in their own certain way. Also in the end of the movie the innocent dog which is the only one that survives symbolizes the exception and the hope of non-corrupted and non-sick member of the society. Conclusion: Perception through art is always visible to anyone. All kind of artists give a meaning to their artworks. In every kind of artwork , even if it is a painting, a film. Anything that is being characterized as art gives a special perception to the audience. “Perception is a fundamental psychological process, and a very remarkable one.” (Wade, 1991:12). From research that has been carried out this seems really true. As I mentioned previously the perception is derived through the psychological condition of the individual. Every artist is giving a meaning to its piece and certain opinions and messages are passing to the audience. In the film “Dogville” through the alienation effect and through symbolism, ideas of corruption and revenge are being passed to the mind of the audience. The audience reacts to what it sees and perceives everything through its own common sense. It’s normal to perceive something differently than another one. It’s because we process everything with our own common sense.

Illustration List: Figure 1: Dogville (2003): The different personalities in the town of Dogville. (Accessed: 11/12/2011) Figure 2: Dogville (2003): The people of the town of Dogville. (Accessed: 11/12/2011) Figure 3: Fight Club (1999): The “double” identity of the main actor in Fight Club. 7 (Accessed: 11/12/2011) Figure 4: Fight Club (1999): The split personality actor in the movie Fight Club. (Accessed: 11/12/2011) Figure 5: Dogville (2003): The empty stage of the film “Dogville”. (Accessed: 11/12/2011) Figure 6: Dogville (2003): The illusion set of the film “Dogville” (Accessed: 11/12/2011) Figure 7: The Caucasian chalk circle: “The Caucasian chalk circle” using the alienation effect. (Accessed: 11/12/2011) Figure 8: Dogville (2003): The killing of the town in Dogville. (Accessed: 11/12/2011) Figure 9: Dogville (2003): Grace being “captivated” with chains. (Accessed: 11/12/2011) Bibliography: Ashmore, Richard D. (1997) ). Self and Identity : Fundamental Issues. USA. Oxford University Press (Accessed: 11/12/2011) Meyer-Dinkgräfe, Daniel (2005). Theatre and Consciousness. Bristol. Intellect Ltd. (Accessed: 11/12/2011) Eddershaw, Margaret (1996). Performing Brecht. London. Routledge (Accessed: 11/12/2011) Wade, Nicholas J (1991). Visual Perception : An Introduction. USA. Routledge. (Accessed: 11/12/2011)