We’ve all seen stories like this before, indie-bildungsroman about boys who live their lives lost in the muggy, modern world, oppressed by their parents, their schools and society as a whole only to truly find themselves after they also find their one true love; be it a girl, a ballet gym or … a gun? In this films case it is the latter that leads Jaimie Bell’s brooding teen to come out of his shell, though he is of course a staunch pacifist and so he keeps the titular pistol not as a weapon but as a confidence booster; eventually enlisting likeminded others to join him in the practice, thus beginning the birth of ‘The Dandies’.
If this is all sounding a little strange to you then know that it is, entirely so. The group not only worship but wed their weaponry after writing poems about them, gazing longingly over their exit wounds and sprucing the rest of their outfits up to match. They are then obviously psychotic, but that’s ok because the film is also quite obviously a parable.
Though he did not direct the film himself (leaving good friend and Dogme 95 colleague Thomas Vinterberg those honors – though only after Nicholas Winding Refn was forced to pull out of production.) this is very much a Von Trier film. It is he who wrote the screenplay – and the film is almost obtrusively script driven, there are times when you can almost see the handwriting on the screen – and his previous effort, Dogville, which obviously inspired some of the films visual style – though there is of course a fully built set here, the film still has a sense of staging as the small, mid-west mining town of Electric square is mapped out much like the little village of Dogville. It is also reminiscent of that film thematically, in that they are both very critical of the United States’ policy towards violence.
So one quickly realizes that this film will not give you the same sense of catharsis, nor will it make you shed tears of happiness like the similarly veined Billy Eliot; though the film does differ from Von Trier’s work in a number of ways. For one it is markedly humorous – and yes I have seen The Boss of it All and Riget – and does manage, at least in its opening half, to parlay senses similar to those of the aforementioned genre. You very much come to like lead character Dick (given the films fascination with guns this phallic choice of name is surely no coincidence) and do want him and his Dandies to grow and succeed despite knowing deep down what their actions will lead to. While the third act disposes of any such intentions it also, in a dark way, ups the laugh quotient by pulling the film into territory reserved normally for satire, though again I must say that it is very, very dark . The other notable difference lies in the fact that Von Triers’ films are usually remarkably clear-cut in their message, where-as this one does struggle somewhat to stick to a singular string.
The film is obviously about guns but despite what you may think this is not such a simple theme and throughout there are a number of different, big issues touched upon; gangs (‘The Dandies’ and the towns people’s irrational fear of …),war (though this is said about every film post 9/11 there are multiple scenes which seem included solely for this comparison, hiding in the bunker as the police raid being the most blatant), the right to bear arms on supposedly safe home-soil and simple, self-protection . These are all great topics and could all do with being broken down by this style of story but because all of them are squeezed in so no single theme is given enough depth. Are the Dandies a gang? Is their mapping of the square juxtaposition to ‘turf’? If this is about war, specifically Gulf War 2 : Electric Boogaloo, then who are the Americans? The Police? If so, how does this affect the way we see them as representations of certain southern citizens who also love their licensed weaponry?
Whereas Dogville starkly pulls back all of its flab to more clearly flex the thematic muscle underneath, Wendy instead piles it on, perhaps thinking that seen from the right angle the fat and muscle will seem as if alloyed into one bigger mass but unfortunately this is not so. Though for every moment of lacked clarity there is instead an extra idea to ponder or an extra emotion evoked, so it is a justifiable trade-off.
While this film treads the line between enjoyability and emotion in such a way that it won’t likely engross you phenomonilogically, it is certain to be an interesting enough watch for the pretentious few who didn’t simply sign off at my use of the eight-syllable word.