tagReviews & EssaysA Review of “Breaking the Waves”

A Review of “Breaking the Waves”

byDecayed Angel©

I have seen many reviews here at Literotica for the "triple X" rated films, but I also think that there are mainstream films only rated R that tell an intensely erotic or sexual story without the graphic sex. In this case, although the sexuality is expressed more in the acting, dialogue and settings than in the visual images, I think most readers here will find the film intensely charged and moving. The story here is basically a "Loving Wives" tale, one that will be intensely interesting to the many fans and foes of the particular Literotica category.

"Breaking the Waves" written and directed by Lars von Trier was released as an independent film with considerable attention. In additional to winning many international film awards, including the European Film Award, Emily Watson also received an Oscar Nomination for best actress for her portrayal of Bess McNeill. I first saw the film on video tape and later revisited the film on DVD.

The movie opens with Bess McNeill petitioning her Church elders for permission to marry an outsider, Jan, an oil worker from an offshore drilling rig. You immediately see Bess as a inexperienced and immature woman living in a religious repressed community. The Church elders fear of the outsiders and their world is evident as the pastor asks Bess:

"Can you tell me about anything of real value that the outsiders have brought with them?"

To which Bess replies, "Uh... their music?"


The movie quickly cuts to the wedding where the differences between the community members and the outsiders (Jan and his hard-drinking friends) are further emphasized, highlighted by a chug-a-lug competition between a beer drinking friend and the lemonade drinking Church elder. The humorous scene becomes forebodingly revealing when after both contestants finish chug-a-lugging their beverage, the beer drinker crushes his aluminum can and the Church elder follows using the glass he drank the lemonade from.

Bess' innocence is revealed to us as we learn that she is not only a virgin, but has never seen a man naked before. In an incredibly moving scene, Bess pulls her husband into a bathroom at the Church for her initiation into sex. With the camera focusing on her face, you watch Bess' emotions and responses evolve from fear to anticipation to pain, excitement and ultimately pleasure with a gifted performance by (the actress) Emily Watson.

The movie continues with Bess and Jan living together enjoying Bess's awakening sexuality until the time comes for Jan to return to the offshore rig. Although the somewhat blissful life is portrayed in Bess' home, the harshness of the community around them is expressed in the cinematography as the colors are heavily filtered to nearly sepia tones. While blue sky is evident in some shots, there is always an impending gloom of gray clouds within view, fading the landscape colors to nearly black and white.

Bess' burgeoning personality and sexuality seems almost trapped and when she goes to the church alone to pray, we learn there is something more, something very different about Bess. Her prayer becomes a conversation with God, where Bess not only speaks her part aloud, but also closes her eyes and assumes the voice of God, speaking aloud the message he sends her. The God who speaks is the harsh and demanding God that the Church's ministers and elders speak of, a God that constantly questions Bess' love and devotion to her husband.

After Jan departs for an extended period of time, Bess becomes desperate in her loneliness finally praying to God for Jan's swift return. Her prayers become more and more impassioned until, just 10 days before his return she pleads to God:

Bess: "Oh please won't you send him home?"

Bess, speaking as God: "Are you sure that's what you want?"

Bess: "Yes."


A day later Jan returns after an accident on the rig paralyzes him. After seeing him in the hospital she returns to the Church and prays, asking:

Bess: "What's happening?"

Bess, speaking as God: "You wanted Jan home. Your love for Jan is being put to the test."


While over the next months Jan's health worsens and then improves several times, the general prognosis remains that he will never walk again, that he will remain paralyzed. The frustration Jan feels being unable to make love to his wife leads him to ask something from Bess, something that presses the boundaries of love and faithfulness. As the audience is left wondering if Jan is asking this of Bess for his own, perverse benefit or whether he truly wants her to remain sexually active, he tells her:

Jan: "Bess, I want you to find a man to make love to and then come back and tell me about it. Do it for me."

After some embarrassing failures, Bess finds the opportunity to engage in sexual contact with strangers, beginning with simply masturbating a man while riding a bus and continuing on to more and more degrading scenes. Each time she returns and describe the event to Jan as if she and Jan were involved in the contact, "making love."

As Jan's condition continues to fluctuate, Bess, with the help of God during their conversations, becomes convinced that these depraved contacts with strange men are keeping Jan alive. Unfortunately, her activities become apparent to the others in her community and she is ostracized and ignored by all but her best friend and sister-in-law Dodo McNeill. Dodo is a nurse at the hospital who, as her life deterioriates, comes to Bess and explains that Jan is dying.

Firmly convinced she can save her husband, in desperation Bess catches a ride on a small boat out to a ship where even the most seasoned prostitutes will not visit. The final scenes of the movie will have every audience member questioning their own values regarding love, marriage, commitment and faithfulness as Bess' life as a "Loving Wife" unravels.

I found the movie both disturbing and immensely satisfying. The involved script and wonderful acting drew me step by step into the inner workings of the characters until I became as conflicted as Bess and Jan. Besides an incredible, Oscar nominated performance by Emily Watson, Stellan Skarsgard and Katrin Cartlidge were outstanding playing Jan Nyman and Dodo McNeill. I highly recommend the film.

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