Dancer in the Dark (2000) - Synopsis


Selma has an admirer, Jeff (Peter Stormare), who waits patiently outside the factory every day in hope that she will accept a lift home. Selma always refuses but Jeff waits for her anyway.

One evening, Selma's neighbour Bill confesses that his savings are exhausted, he's going to lose his house and he can't bring himself to tell his spendthrift wife, Linda, who thinks he has a private income. Selma confides in Bill that she is going blind but that she has almost saved enough money to pay for an operation for Gene. Bill and Selma part with the promise to keep their respective secrets.

At the factory, Selma finds it increasingly difficult to disguise her failing sight. She is continually distracted by the rhythm of the presses and the clattering of the steel sinks and begins to imagine that she and her co-workers are in a musical. The hissing and clanging of the machinery inspires daydreams of elaborate song and dance routines. But Selma's imagination is dangerous for an operator of industrial equipment and her "absences" do not go unremarked by Norman, the shop foreman (Jean-Marc Barr). Kathy tries to protect her but she, too, is worried about Selma's ability to work.

Bill asks Selma for a loan but she gently refuses, reminding him that her savings will save her child from blindness. He apologises for asking and jokes that he can always shoot himself. Back at the factory, over Kathy's protests, Selma takes on a night shift. Kathy is furious but when Selma arrives for her first night duty, Kathy is there, too.

Again, Bill goes to Selma, but this time he tells her that he's decided to confess to his wife that they are broke and hope for the best. He makes as if to leave Selma's caravan but hides in a corner instead, watching as she stashes her money in its hiding place.

Selma and Kathy go to their rehearsal but it's obvious to Selma that she can't play Maria. She can no longer see to the edge of the stage. She tells the director, Samuel (Vincent Paterson) that she would prefer to have a smaller part. At work, Norman reluctantly tells her that he must let her go. He gives Selma her final wage packet.

Jeff is waiting for Selma as she leaves the factory and walks her home along the train tracks. When Selma is nearly hit by an oncoming freight train, Jeff realises that her vision has gone. "I've seen it all," sings Selma, imagining that the workers on the flatbed train are performing in her own private musical. She asks Jeff to pick her up later that afternoon for a drive. Arriving home, she goes to hide her last pay packet with the rest of her savings. The tin is empty.

Selma goes to Bill, knowing that he has taken her money. Linda confronts her, saying that Bill has told her everything: Bill rebuffed Selma's advances and now she is seeking revenge. Selma insists on seeing Bill. He admits the theft and the lies but refuses to turn over her money until Selma has put him out of his misery. A struggle ensues and Bill is wounded. He begs her to finish the job and Selma complies. Linda has gone for the police. Selma, meanwhile, momentarily leaves the scene of the crime to return to her private musical where she imagines a scene of forgiveness and reconciliation.

As the police sirens whine in the distance, Jeff comes for Selma and at her instructions, drives to a place in the woods. Selma leaves Jeff and makes her way alone, following a guide rope to a nearby clinic. She gives her savings to Dr Pokorny (Udo Kier) for Gene's operation, telling him that when the time comes, the boy will identify himself by the name Novy.

Jeff takes Selma to her rehearsal for "The Sound of Music" but Samuel calls the police as soon as she arrives and Selma is taken into custody.

At her trial, the prosecutor presents Selma as scheming and selfish. She is accused of exaggerating her handicap. Her story of working to support her elderly father in Czechoslovakia (which she invented to protect Gene from the truth about his eyesight) is exposed as a lie. Everything she offers in her own defense is dismissed. Selma is sent to death row, but not before she invents a courtroom number in which her imaginary father, the elderly musical comedy star OIrich Novy (Joel Grey), does a tap routine on the judge's bench...

Kathy and Jeff make futile attempts to persuade Selma to enter a new plea to save her own life but Selma is unwilling to spend Gene's money on a new lawyer. Instead, she passes the time alone in her cell, listening for any sounds that will distract her from the inevitable.

When the day arrives, the good-hearted prison warden, Brenda (Siobhan Fallon) helps Selma to make her last walk with dignity: Selma is paralysed with fear but the stamping of Brenda's feet creates the beat for a finale as she takes the 107 steps to the gallows...