Can a pacifist fall in love with a gun and still claim to be peace-loving? This is a notion explored in Dear Wendy, a unique collaboration between Dogme 95 brothers-in-arms Lars Von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg. Written by Von Trier and directed by Vinterberg, this film is a timely and thought provoking parable about a group of outsiders in an poverty-stricken American mining village who share a passion for guns despite being sworn pacifists.
Jamie Bell takes the lead as Dick, proving that there is life after Billy Elliot and that he has a diverse and fruitful film career ahead. This is an intelligent choice of role for Bell and he offers a thoughtful portrayal of peace-loving Dick, whose self-confidence begins to rocket as he discovers guns.
By accident Dick, who narrates the tale, comes in possession of a handgun that he names Wendy. When his supermarket colleague Steve (Mark Webber) discovers the gun, the two bond over a fascination for the weapon. Fascination soon turns to obsession and The Dandies are formed – a gang that unites the town’s outsiders through their shared interest in guns, poetry and dressing up.
The group is founded upon pacifist principles. Indeed the most important rule of The Dandies is never to draw your weapon out within the underground mine shaft that is used as a base. However, events soon spiral out of control and the gang find themselves at the centre of a battle with the police – led by Officer Krugsby (Bill Pullman) – causing them to break this vital rule with bloody results.
It is an extremely clever and multi-layered plot. On one level it is an excellent exploration of group dynamics and how small town frustrations can breed a fantasy existence for escapism. On another, it is an acutely observed analogy for America’s relationship with guns. Although The Dandies don’t believe in killing, simply carrying their guns in their pockets builds their confidence, just like the millions of Americans who believe that they need a gun in the house to feel safe. The Dandies’ endless shooting practice, as well as personalising the guns, in the end, desensitises the act of killing, just as unrealistic Hollywood action flicks and shoot ‘em-up video games do.
It could also be viewed as an attack on Bush’s war on terror. The showdown between the Dandies and the police is implausible yet believable because it highlights how the causes of many conflicts are so often unnecessary. In fact, Pullman’s portrayal of Officer Krugsby takes on many of Bush’s mannerisms.
Artistically, Dear Wendy excels too. Vinterberg shoots the movie with a documentary-style authenticity, the cast put in flawless performances and the soundtrack enhances the whole experience with 1960s cult band The Zombies playing throughout.
It’s refreshing to see a film that offers something so unique with so much to say. Dear Wendy has as much to say about American gun culture as Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine but is an impartial and subtle take on the issue. It does not preach but presents its story to the viewer who will undoubtedly walk away from Dear Wendy with a lot to think about.
The film doesn’t directly answer the question posed at the start of this review but it does suggest that weapons in anyone’s hands inevitably lead to killing – whether that’s weapons of mass destruction in Saddam’s Iraq or America’s stock of nuclear arms for defence purposes.