Manderlay, a critic to the Western Society Post-Colonialism?

The curtain opens, the theater-play starts. Having seen Dogville, I’m not surprised about the peculiarity of the scene. In fact, Dogville is the first part and Manderlay the second one of Lars Von Trier Trilogy, Land of Opportunities. If you are waiting for a movie full of action, then Manderlay is the wrong choice. The rhythm is slow, the action confined to a small geographic area, a plantation of cotton called Manderlay, Alabama. A plantation where the slavery persists, roughly 70 years after the American Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation. We have in front of us a meta-society ruled by Mum’s Law, an exhaustive code of conduct for all its inhabitants, free and slave. All of sudden, while a slave from the plantation is calling for help desperately, she runs into Grace, a gangster girl. Grace abhors the living conditions of Manderlay and she wants to overpower the Mum’s law for a more fair way of living: a communistic cooperative is set-up, this time the whites the slave. Grace gives lecture about racial equality, freedom, democracy. As the film progresses, the Grace’s law reveals to be ruinous as the Mum’s law was. Abuse of power, violation of freedom, killing of the democracy values, these the common characteristic that in Grace’s example are well hidden by the good intentions behind her actions. At the beginning this methodology could fool us, she legitimates a revenge against “the white”, she is at the side of the weakest, but is she fighting for them or for her own satisfaction? Grace is making the same mistakes as Mum, she’s applying a violent authoritarianism, furthermore wrongly using the punishment as a redemption process. A change to be effective has to be embraced from the community, even the fairest principle if it comes as an imposition leads to an unfair society and becomes ineffective. We might not be wrong in considering the movie as a direct critic to the disastrous Western Society Post-Colonialism approach that indeed fails as Grace.

Chiara Lombardi

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