Dogville (Lars von Trier, 2003)

Dogville’s opening shot is a bird’s eye view of the whole town.  What we initially see is the rectangular shape of the soundstage on which the map of the town is drawn.  White lines and words written in chalk on the floor outline and name the locations.  The camera zooms in very slowly to reveal the details of this quasi-abstract representation of the town, which we later understand to be the town itself; there is no more or no less to it.

This opening shot serves various purposes.  It emphasizes the audience’s visual superiority: we are not only able to see through walls, we can also govern the viewpoint from up above the town.  From the first moment in the film, we are put in a divine position because of the length of the zoom-ins and the height of the angle.  The shot provokes a temptation to judge.  It also gives us directions about how to read the film: we will observe the town in general first and then find out the tiniest detail.  Right from the start, visual omniscience and authority are what the film offers to us.  Even if the action is actually taking place inside the borders of a house, we can easily penetrate in via a zoom-in or a tracking shot. The voice-over narration that accompanies this opening is also worth mentioning. Because the setting is established on a bare soundstage, we are more eager to listen to the voice-over to learn about the missing pieces. On the other hand, the physical world inside the town, as much as the minds of the characters, comes to existence through this voice.  Every time something that is not there is conveyed through the narration, the nature of its absence is hinted at.  Even though we do not see it, we have to take it as present.  The voice-over supplies what the narrative does not – or what the filmmaker does not want to – convey visually.

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