Breaking the Waves

November 13, 1996 0 By Fans
1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (No Ratings Yet)


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.

Release Year: 1996

Rating: 7.8/10 (28,051 voted)

Critic's Score: 76/100

Lars von Trier

Stars: Emily Watson, Stellan Skarsgård, Katrin Cartlidge

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.

Writers: Lars von Trier, Peter Asmussen


Emily Watson

Bess McNeill

Stellan Skarsgård

Jan Nyman

Katrin Cartlidge

Dodo McNeill

Jean-Marc Barr


Adrian Rawlins

Dr. Richardson

Jonathan Hackett


Sandra Voe


Udo Kier

Sadistic Sailor

Mikkel Gaup


Roef Ragas


Phil McCall


Robert Robertson


Desmond Reilly

An Elder

Sarah Gudgeon


Finlay Welsh


(as Finley Welsh)

Love is a mighty power.

Release Date: 13 November 1996

Filming Locations: Copenhagen, Denmark

Gross: $4,040,691
(4 May 1997)

Technical Specs


(director's cut)

Did You Know?


Barbara Sukowa was attached to this project at one stage.


(At 01:07) When Bess is in bed with her sister-in-law, the blanket is on, then off, Bess' shoulder.


Jan Nyman:
[he writes in a paper]
Let me die. I'm evil in head!

Jan Nyman:
I love you no matter what is in your head!

User Review



Lars von Trier's Breaking the Waves is the kind of film that makes me
proud to be a film-goer and exceeds anything I could have possibly
expected from the man who made Element of Crime. That film had some
clever experimentation (and so does this one) but this film is the kind
that's beauty and power echoes in your mind hours after you've watched
it. This is a flabbergasting work of art that portrays a woman's quest
to please God and does so with the complexity and emotional power of a
Bergman film (not to mention the fact that the film portrays a woman's
intense suffering in world sternly ruled by men with the power of a
Dreyer film). If von Trier made nothing else of any merit for the rest
of his career, if all he did was make marginally interesting film
experiments, I wouldn't hesitate to call him a great filmmaker on the
soul basis of this film. Anyway, you get the picture… The film stars
Emily Watson as Bess, a shy and neurotic girl who is filled with joy to
be with her new husband Jan (Stellan Skarsgard who is exceptional).
When Jan is paralyzed after an accident at the oilrig he works in, he
is in danger of losing his life. He convinces Bess to see other people
and Bess wants nothing more than to make him happy and to prove to God
that she loves him. After some disastrous complications, Bess is led to
believe that she can please God and save Jan's life by having numerous
sexual encounters with strangers in town. This sounds like a grungy
tale, but von Trier tells it with such humanism and focus on his themes
that we never feel like he is rubbing our faces in drear. And Watson is
delightful, frightening, and heartbreaking as a woman who will stop at
nothing to please those around her. Her one-sided conversations with
God (in which she looks up in the air submissively and pleas and then
looks down with a deep voice of wrath and scolds) are both funny and
sad, not to mention the fact that they reveal seemingly endless amounts
of details about who she is. The film is made with a hand-held camera
and a visually stunning solarized style. This style does not make the
movie; it just adds richness to each scene in the way it gives each
face such shadowy texture. In the end, von Trier seems to believe in
God but does not believe in the churches that try to codify what he
wants. All of this works because of von Trier's passionate desire to
understand how one can please God under horrendous terms; the epilogue,
that takes the already-great material to a new level and shows how
inspired von Trier is, starts with a moment of sad irony and then leaps
to the skies with an image that fills the most atheistic person with
questions and the more religiously spiritual people with hope. Here is
a film that reaches for the stars and makes it there.