I’m thinking about making a movie about Denmark. Sure, I’m not Danish, I’ve never been to Denmark and I’ve never actually met any Danes except for a guy who once gave me directions to Arsenal’s soccer stadium in London and then tried to sell me some weed. That was only a two-minute conversation, but it provided me with everything I might ever need to know about a complicated country with a turbulent history and a multifaceted cultural ethos. Plus, I watch a lot of movies and TV shows about Danes. I think I’m all caught up.
Hubris, you say? You think I’m an imbecile for believing I can understand a foreign culture merely through snapshot images and warped media portrayals filtered through my own inapplicable experiences? How dare I? You obviously don’t understand Art.
You see, I’m a member of an elite cinematic movement known as Dogmeat ’95. About 10 years ago, me and a bunch of my chamomile-tea-drinking, flannel-wearing, slackster buddies gathered at a Wal-Mart McDonald’s and wrote a lengthy mission statement about how there was no truth in film any more, how everything has become too commercial and artificial and staged. We’re still going to make movies'because we want to get laid and make lots of money'but we resolved to make them only with naturalistic production values and deliberately inaccessible plots and dialogue. We might be shallow and dumb, but if our shallow stupidity were properly disguised, we could still get laid and make lots of money for decades.
An American making a movie about the Danish soul seems ludicrous, presumptuous and doomed to abject failure, but I just saw a film that provided a perfect template. Dear Wendy is sold as an attempt by Danish director Thomas Vinterberg and writer Lars von Trier to explore an inner part of the American mind: its preoccupation with guns, violence and youth culture. The Dogme boys (they stole our movement’s name) aren’t working “au naturel” here'they’ve set their tale in an American mining town consisting of three rows of buildings and a main street. There have been Hanna-Barbera cartoons with more naturalistic backdrops, but that’s just the tip of the artificial iceberg.
Dick (Jamie Bell) is the orphaned son of a miner, living with his black (that part’s important) housekeeper and bored to fake tears. He attempts to buy a toy gun as a present for a friend'but it turns out it’s a real double-action revolver, according to his pal Stevie (Mark Webber). Here comes the Art: Dick becomes enamored with his gun, naming it Wendy and writing it a letter that forms the narration for the film. He and Stevie form a club called The Dandies, whose members wear strange clothes and pretty much worship their firearms. But this isn’t the NRA: “Pacifists with guns is such a great idea, it’s practically our duty to share it with others,” Dick says.
The film’s disconnectedness is so astounding and comprehensive that it’s almost impossible to believe anybody thought Vinterberg and Von Trier knew anything about their subjects. It’s an academic meditation for academics who have never left the house. Not a single aspect of their film rings true'and it’s not even uniformly inauthentic, like a misguided satire. They miss high, low, backwards and sideways with this broken-down pistol of a film, wounding their own credibility and their actors’ reputations (like young Canadian up-and-comer Alison Pill, who was persuaded to take off her shirt for absolutely no reason) with every scattered shot.
The flair and storytelling grace that rescued von Trier’s 2004 anti-American screed Dogville from complete uselessness is gone here, replaced by a hoary plot conceit: The black kid (Danso Gordon) who arrives to catalyze some serious violence among the innocent white kids. The third act becomes curiously corny, with a local law-enforcement officer (Bill Pullman) getting involved in a ludicrous showdown that takes this illogical story to a sad, head-scratching conclusion.
The arrogant failure of Dear Wendy won’t stop the arrogant success of Dogmeat. We’re committed to shouting our ignorance and half-baked conclusions from theater screens around the world. Everyone will bow before my genius'even if I have to use a gun. After all, I’m an American.