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‘Only the last song if we let it be’: Dancer in the Dark, The Sound of Music and song and dance as traumatic container

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Lars von Trier’s homage to and critique of musical theatre and film in Dancer in the Dark (2000) uses the big musical theatre song and dance number as a place where the unfathomability of traumatic emotion is expressed. Trauma’s unfathomability comes from the inability of the person to process the traumatic event at the moment of its occurrence. It tears apart carefully constructed fantasies that structure reality and expose what usually hides from consciousness. Dancer in the Dark uses the framing device of The Sound of Music, both the original 1959 stage version and the 1965 film, and represents the absolute split between reality and fantasy as traumatized Selma dreams herself into musical numbers. This space of tragedy emerges framed by her dream of performing Maria in a community theatre production of The Sound of Music. The affective promise of musical theatre during ‘real’ rehearsals of The Sound of Music contrasts sharply against the cinematic fantasies rooted in the film The Sound of Music that serve to lift off the burden of traumatic reality. This article will explore the revision to the film musical that von Trier offers with Dancer in the Dark alongside the intertexts of theatre and film versions of The Sound of Music in relationship to trauma, emotion and the psychoanalytic concept of the ‘cure’.
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Keywords: Dancer in the Dark; Lars von Trier; The Sound of Music; affect; musical theatre; trauma

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Trinity University

Publication date: March 1, 2016

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