Dogville: Brechtian Theatre

Dogville is a 2003 Danish drama film, written and directed by Lars von Trier. It’s a fable that uses an exceptionally minimal, stage-like set to tell the story of Grace Mulligan (Kidman), a woman hiding from mobsters, who arrives in the small mountain town of Dogville, Colorado, and is offered refuge in return for physical labor. Her stay there ultimately changes the lives of the local people and the town in many ways. Brechtian or “Epic Theatre” is a theatrical movement that began in the 1900’s.

The key concept in this topic is the concept of defamiliarisation “distancing effect,” or “estrangement effect,” and often mistranslated as “alienation effect”) which consists through techniques such as; the use of a different historical time, place and situation to the viewer, sound that is non diagetic an also involves “stripping the event of its self-evident, familiar, obvious quality and creating a sense of astonishment and curiosity about them.” Brecht utilized techniques such as the actor’s direct address to the audience, harsh and bright stage lighting, the use of songs to interrupt the action, explanatory placards, and, in rehearsals, the transposition of text to the third person or past tense, and speaking the stage directions out loud. 

“In setting up new artistic principles and working out new methods of representation we must start with the compelling demands of a changing epoch; the necessity and the possibility of remodeling society loom ahead. All incidents between me must be noted, and everything must be seen from a social point of view. Among other effects that new theatre will need for its social criticism and its historical reporting of completed transformations is the A-effect (Brecht on Theatre,1964).”


It is this A-effect (Alienation effect = defamiliarisation effect) that plays an important role in understanding how Brechtian theatre operates and the reasons behind its techniques. The quote above explains the reasons behind the defamiliarisation effect and how its presence is important to the constantly changing times. It is evident that the defamiliarisation technique is very important to the Brechtian style; it is the core basis of the style and what it is trying to achieve.


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