In the Kingdom of Men:
Love, Faith and Spirituality in von Trier's Breaking the Waves

By Ingrid Fernandez
Stanford University


1. For full review, see Jonathan Rosenbaum’s “Mixed Emotions” in Chicago Reader (Dec. 5, 1996) available WWW:

2. See Irena S.M. Makarushka, “Transgressing Goodness in Breaking the Waves” in JR & F 2:1 (April 1998).

3. Nietzsche proposes that the driving force of every organism whether partial or connecting into a whole is based on action.  He defines “life” as the will to power.  The will to power is the objective manifestation of the vital force that animates the workings of the world.  It organizes what we perceive as life forms, from its most basic as in the protozoan to more complex structures such as the body politic.  But it does not require social validity as a subject, but rather the ability of the organism to enhance itself and expand.  In order to be part of the ecosystem, every organism is already enmeshed in enacting some form of this type of willing.   Nietzsche’s brilliant contribution de-idealizes mankind and assumes no particular superiority that would place the human at the center.  He privileges the instinct to enhance as the basic form of motivation and allocates similar value to all life forms rather than concocting hierarchical structured based on a special quality evident in humans as opposed to non-human animals or other active elements in nature.  

4. For full discussion of the difference between Agape and Eros, see Anders Nygen, “Agape and Eros” in Eros, Agape, and Philia: Readings in the Philosophy of Love (St. Paul: Paragon House, 1989): 85-95.

5. In “Redeeming Sexual Violence? A Feminist Reading of Breaking the Waves,” Alyda Faber challenges essays by Stephen Heath, Kyle Keefer, Tod Linafelt and Irena Makarushka that propose the figure of Bess as embodying liberating subversive sexuality.  She invokes Kristeva’s concept of the abject as an excluding category and concludes that von Trier idealizes feminine masochism in his association of the female body with abjection, pathology and the irrational, and in so doing, reaffirms patriarchal authority through power and rationality. The article serves as a substantial summary of the competing feminist interpretations of the film.

6. Flaubert’s “A Simple Heart” also goes to extremes in portraying the constant peril of the main character, Felicité, who often suffers in vain.  The ending is similarly open to doubt as to its sincerity or cynicism, with the stuffed parrot appearing in a vision as the Holy Spirit welcoming the saint-like Felicité to the afterlife.

7. See for example Tony Michael and Ken Derry’s “Jon Woo’s The Killer and Girard.” JR & F 5:1 (April 2001); Paul Graham’s “Revisiting Violence in The Godfather: The Ambiguous Space of the Victimage Model.” JR & F 9:2 (October 2005); and Jethro Rothe-Kushel’s “Fight Club: A Ritual Cure for the Spiritual Ailment of American Masculinity.” The Film Journal.  Available WWW:

8. Here Makarushka is quoting Louise J. Kaplan’s Female Perversions.

9. I am using the Guld Hjerle children’s picture book as my source because I am interested in the form and tone of this story.  For references, please WWW:  I am using the story as a separate text and not basing my comparison between the film and the fairy-tale purely on von Trier’s incomplete remembrance of it in one of the interviews.

10. For elaboration of the concept of “presentification,” please see Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht.  Production of Presence: What Meaning Cannot Convey (Stanford: Stanford UP, 2004).


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