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Politics, Theory, and FilmCritical Encounters with Lars von Trier$
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Bonnie Honig and Lori J. Marso

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780190600181

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2016

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780190600181.001.0001

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Sharing in What Death Reveals

Sharing in What Death Reveals

Breaking the Waves with Bataille

(p.131) 5 Sharing in What Death Reveals
Politics, Theory, and Film

Stephen S. Bush

Oxford University Press

This chapter discusses two interpretations of von Trier’s Breaking the Waves (1996) in its treatment of violence. One interpretation concerns Bess McNeill’s sacrificial love for her husband, Jan, in which Bess’s violent death becomes the supreme expression of that love. According to an alternative interpretation, informed by Georges Bataille, the role of violence in the film is to bring the viewer to an experience of commonality with Bess. It is also an acknowledgment of the viewer’s own cruel fascination with the spectacle of violence. The chapter argues that the two interpretations are in tension, revealing shortcomings not only in von Trier’s treatment of violence, but also in Bataille’s.

Keywords:   Breaking the Waves, Georges Bataille, Bess McNeill, treatment of violence, spectacle of violence, sacrificial love, alternative interpretations

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