Movie Review: Breaking the Waves

By Moira Sullivan
Movie Magazine International
Breaking the Waves is a tragic movie that is disturbing in so many ways that its almost too painful to watch. The new bride of an oil rigger, in a spectacular debut role for Emily Watson prays to have him home immediately, and gets her wish. Jan (Stellan Skarsgård) is sent home paralyzed after an accident at work where his head gets royally bonged. Beside herself with grief, Bess prays again for his immediate recovery. Heavily sedated and despondent he'll never walk again, he admonishes Bess to have sex with other men and report the details back to him as a way of keeping their love alive.
The film is set in a horrible Christian parish in Scotland during the 70's with pop tunes from the period played in between episodes of the narrative.
The cinematography is sublime especially when the helicopter with the oil riggers lands for the wedding. Much is absurd in the story and all of it can't be blamed on the pathetic churchgoers of the township, and the provincial villagers who ostracize Bess for giving her body to men to make her husband well. The idea of pimping Beth is truly sophomoric on the part of Lars Von Trier and company. Their immaturity is confirmed in the technical crew gab about the making of the film.
What seems to be forgotten is that this is not only a confused and obedient young woman governed by a patriarchal church and sick husband, but also someone mentally challenged. She is cared for by Dodo, her sister in law who is a nurse in the hospital where Jan is taken, and who lost her husband in fatal accident on the oil rig. Dodo is Katrin Cartlidge, who recently died of cancer, her part recast for Patricia Clarkson in Dogville . Dodo keeps both the film and Bess more or less stabile and provides her with the only instruction she receives in the ways of the world. It is high maintenance calming her fears but Dodo the only one who rages against the male clergy who condemn Bess to hell for her promiscuousness. Watching the decline of Bess is heart breaking especially since as she gets worse her husband improves and the church marches on, not missing a beat in its misogyny.
Breaking the Waves won a slew of awards for Emily Watson, including an Oscar nomination in 1997, and a special director's award at Cannes in 1996 for Von Trier. Since then, Emily Watson continues to receive her quota of boundariless physically or emotionally challenged women, such as the blind clerk in a photoshop who falls for the serial murderer in The Red Dragon. It would be great if she could she could break out of character once and say, thanks to Lars Von Trier, I am stuck with roles like this: I really know how to pick them.

For Movie Magazine This is Moira Sullivan, Stockholm Sweden
More Information:
Breaking the Waves
Denmark - 1996