Lars von Trier, Dogville, and the Hodological Space of Cinema

In an interview on his film Dogville (Denmark, 2003) Lars von Trier said that the absence of setting forces the spectators to invent the town for themselves. As a result, the ‘cinematic’ emerges from a kind of ‘in-between’ space. In this essay, I shall argue that Kurt Lewin's notion of ‘hodological’ space is particularly appropriate in understanding this kind of in-between or ‘contact’ space. Hodological space relates to the human experience as a complex social energy field, and, applied to cinema, it can show that the cinematic experience is much more immediate, much more dependent on the existence of others, and much more socially conditioned than assumed in theories that heavily epitomize the concept of look only. Generally speaking, one could claim that cinema is the art of social space, bringing before the spectators the intersubjective ‘life-spaces’ of the characters in the film. Cinema is not some kind of objectified external universe cut off from the spectator by an impassable barrier that separates the corporeal from the intellectual or the private self from the public space. Rather, cinema is a matter of senses that emerges from a place between the inside of the self and the outside of the world. This essay shows how the luminousness of design in Dogville lends itself to Lewin's psychological view of space. By removing the setting in Dogville, von Trier leaves the ordinary Euclidean space behind and creates a hodological field of force instead. In doing so, von Trier places the focus on the intersubjective relations instead of on the fixed set of coordinates independent of subjects.

Author Name: 
Laine, Tarja
Journal: 
Studies in European Cinema
Citation: 
Laine, Tarja. "Lars Von Trier, Dogville,and the Hodological Space of Cinema." Studies in European Cinema 3.2 (2006): 129-41. Print.