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Breaking the Waves (1996)

R | | Drama | 13 November 1996 (USA)
Trailer
2:09 | Trailer
Oilman Jan is paralyzed in an accident. His wife, who prayed for his return, feels guilty; even more, when Jan urges her to have sex with another.

Director:

Lars von Trier (as Lars Von Trier)

Writers:

Lars von Trier, Peter Asmussen (co-writer)
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Popularity
4,417 ( 133)
Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 43 wins & 27 nominations. See more awards »

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Emily Watson ... Bess McNeill
Stellan Skarsgård ... Jan Nyman
Katrin Cartlidge ... Dodo McNeill
Jean-Marc Barr ... Terry
Adrian Rawlins ... Dr. Richardson
Jonathan Hackett Jonathan Hackett ... Priest
Sandra Voe Sandra Voe ... Mother
Udo Kier ... Sadistic Sailor
Mikkel Gaup ... Pits
Roef Ragas ... Pim
Phil McCall Phil McCall ... Grandfather
Robert Robertson Robert Robertson ... Chairman
Desmond Reilly Desmond Reilly ... An Elder
Sarah Gudgeon Sarah Gudgeon ... Sybilla
Finlay Welsh ... Coroner (as Finley Welsh)
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Storyline

Drama set in a repressed, deeply religious community in the north of Scotland, where a naive young woman named Bess McNeil meets and falls in love with Danish oil-rig worker Jan. Bess and Jan are deeply in love but, when Jan returns to his rig, Bess prays to God that he returns for good. Jan does return, his neck broken in an accident aboard the rig. Because of his condition, Jan and Bess are now unable to enjoy a sexual relationship and Jan urges Bess to take another lover and tell him the details. As Bess becomes more and more deviant in her sexual behavior, the more she comes to believe that her actions are guided by God and are helping Jan recover. Written by Jonathan Broxton <j.w.broxton@sheffield.ac.uk>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Taglines:

Love is a mighty power.

Genres:

Drama

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for strong graphic sexuality, nudity, language and some violence | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Details

Language:

English

Release Date:

13 November 1996 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Contra viento y marea See more »

Filming Locations:

Copenhagen, Denmark See more »

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Box Office

Gross USA:

$3,803,298

Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

$3,803,298
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

| (director's cut)

Sound Mix:

Dolby Digital

Color:

Color (Eastmancolor)

Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

The first film in Lars von Trier's "Golden Heart" trilogy in which the heroines remain naïve despite their actions. The two other parts are The Idiots (1998) and Dancer in the Dark (2000). See more »

Goofs

(at around 7 mins) When Bess is in bed with her sister-in-law, the blanket is on, then off, Bess' shoulder. See more »

Quotes

[first lines]
Bess McNeill: His name is Jan.
The Minister: I do not know him.
Bess McNeill: [coyly] He's from the lake.
The Minister: You know we do not favor matrimony with outsiders.
An Elder: Can you even tell us what matrimony is?
Bess McNeill: It's when two people are joined in God.
See more »

Alternate Versions

In the home video release of the film, the 8th chapter card is accompanied by Elton John's "Your Song", but in the theatrical release, that chapter card was accompanied by David Bowie's "Life On Mars". Most recent video releases (such as the Fox UK Region 2 DVD) use "Life On Mars." See more »

Connections

Featured in At the Movies: Best of the '90s (2000) See more »

Soundtracks

Barren Rock of Eden
Performed by Tom Harboe, Jan Harboe and Ulrik Corlin
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

Deceptively simple, undeniably powerful
4 April 2001 | by cchaseSee all my reviews

There had not been a lot of movies I'd seen in a very long time, where the act of embracing one's faith in a greater power, and an unselfish, all-encompassing belief in unconditional love and trust were so vividly and powerfully portrayed. CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON so invests its characters with these traits, that I thought I would never see another film to rival it in this respect. I was sadly mistaken.

Neither Emily Watson or Stellan Skarsgard are as conventionally attractive as the kind of actors you would find in a big budget Hollywood production. Yet in their love scenes as Jan and Bess, I believe we get our very first glimpse on film of what sex between two people is meant to be as the Man Upstairs intended; not something dirty or vile or wanton, or anything as icily clinical as the conditions prescribed by Mother Church, but as a gift to us to be enjoyed, and therefore in turn the greatest gift that any one person can give to another as a sign of love and affection. That alone makes Skarsgard and Watson two of the sexiest, most passionate actors ever to make love on screen; they invest that much into Jan and Bess. I very nearly cried when Bess tells Jan in the throes of passion "Thank you." So deep, tender and uncalculating is her love for him, that he can't help but return it. Few of us will ever know a love of that capacity or intensity in our lifetimes.

Which is what makes this film's conceit easier to accept, and that much harder to bear. In these hard and cynical times, it would be easy to dismiss Bess as a feeble-minded idiot and have done with it. Had director Von Trier seen her story in that way, this would've been a pretty short film.

But when our love for another and our faith is all we have, no matter how misguided it is, no one has the right to question or debunk it, no matter how well-meaning they are. I don't think that Bess' fate could've been altered or avoided no matter how her husband's doctor, her mother, or her sister-in-law Dodo had tried to approach the situation. Her love for Jan and her faith in God are what simultaneously nourished, sustained, uplifted and destroyed her. At the end, she was afraid that maybe she had made a mistake investing herself in making the ultimate sacrifice, and maybe that's what Von Trier was trying to say with that ending, which I'm sure turned off a lot of viewers. If the sacrifices you make are in quest of such love and spirituality, then you can never be wrong.

That's a heady message, and a dangerous one if it is taken out of context. But for those who would condemn this film, I can only say this: you're not paying attention. BREAKING THE WAVES is a film about a woman fallen into promiscuity, the same way that BOOGIE NIGHTS is about a bunch of sleazy pornographers. If you're only looking at the surface, you shouldn't be questioning the content, but your own lack of vision.


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