221 user 114 critic

Breaking the Waves (1996)

2:11 | Trailer

Watch Now

From $2.99 (SD) on Amazon Video

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.


(as Lars Von Trier)


(as Lars Von Trier),
Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 42 wins & 25 nominations. See more awards »



Learn more

People who liked this also liked... 

Crime | Drama | Musical
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8/10 X  

An east European girl goes to America with her young son, expecting it to be like a Hollywood film.

Director: Lars von Trier
Stars: Björk, Catherine Deneuve, David Morse
Dogville (2003)
Crime | Drama
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.1/10 X  

A woman on the run from the mob is reluctantly accepted in a small Colorado town. In exchange, she agrees to work for them. As a search visits town, she finds out that their support has a price. Yet her dangerous secret is never far away...

Director: Lars von Trier
Stars: Nicole Kidman, Paul Bettany, Lauren Bacall
The Idiots (1998)
Comedy | Drama
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.9/10 X  

The group of people gather at the house in Copenhagen suburb to break all the limitations and to bring out the "inner idiot" in themselves.

Director: Lars von Trier
Stars: Bodil Jørgensen, Jens Albinus, Anne Louise Hassing
Europa (1991)
Drama | Thriller
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.7/10 X  

Just after W.W.II, an American takes a railway job in Germany, but finds his position politically sensitive with various people trying to use him.

Director: Lars von Trier
Stars: Barbara Sukowa, Jean-Marc Barr, Udo Kier
Antichrist (2009)
Drama | Horror
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.6/10 X  

A grieving couple retreat to their cabin in the woods, hoping to repair their broken hearts and troubled marriage. But nature takes its course and things go from bad to worse.

Director: Lars von Trier
Stars: Willem Dafoe, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Storm Acheche Sahlstrøm
Melancholia (2011)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.1/10 X  

Two sisters find their already strained relationship challenged as a mysterious new planet threatens to collide with Earth.

Director: Lars von Trier
Stars: Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kiefer Sutherland
Manderlay (2005)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.4/10 X  

A story of slavery, set in the southern U.S. in the 1930s.

Director: Lars von Trier
Stars: Bryce Dallas Howard, Isaach De Bankolé, Danny Glover
Crime | Drama | Thriller
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.9/10 X  

A cop in a dystopian Europe investigates a serial killings suspect using controversial methods written by his now disgraced former mentor.

Director: Lars von Trier
Stars: Michael Elphick, Esmond Knight, Me Me Lai
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7/10 X  

A self-diagnosed nymphomaniac recounts her erotic experiences to the man who saved her after a beating.

Director: Lars von Trier
Stars: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgård, Stacy Martin
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.7/10 X  

An IT company hires an actor to serve as the company's president in order to help the business get sold to a cranky Icelander.

Director: Lars von Trier
Stars: Jens Albinus, Peter Gantzler, Friðrik Þór Friðriksson
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.7/10 X  

The continuation of Joe's sexually dictated life delves into the darker aspects of her adulthood, obsessions and what led to her being in Seligman's care.

Director: Lars von Trier
Stars: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgård, Willem Dafoe
Epidemic (1987)
Drama | Horror
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.2/10 X  

A film director and a script writer (performed by Lars von Trier and Niels Vørsel themselves) write a screenplay, in which an epidemic spreads about the whole world. Like the protagonist ... See full summary »

Director: Lars von Trier
Stars: Allan De Waal, Ole Ernst, Michael Gelting


Cast overview, first billed only:
Dr. Richardson
Jonathan Hackett ...
Sandra Voe ...
Phil McCall ...
Robert Robertson ...
Desmond Reilly ...
An Elder
Sarah Gudgeon ...
Coroner (as Finley Welsh)


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. Written by Jonathan Broxton <j.w.broxton@sheffield.ac.uk>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


Love is a mighty power.


Drama | Romance

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for strong graphic sexuality, nudity, language and some violence | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:




Release Date:

13 November 1996 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Contra viento y marea  »

Filming Locations:


Box Office

Opening Weekend:

$110,741 (USA) (22 November 1996)


$4,040,691 (USA) (2 May 1997)

Company Credits

Production Co:

, ,  »
Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


| (director's cut)

Sound Mix:



Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


Helena Bonham Carter was originally cast in the role of Bess. One of the reasons she turned it down was because of the sex content, arguing she didn't feel comfortable enough with her body at that age. See more »


When Jan leaves to go to the rig, one of the crew men gives Bess a flask of liquor. When she takes a sip, she's holding the flask with both hands and its opening is on the left side. There's a quick cut, and in the next shot the opening is shown to be on the right side of the flask. See more »


[first lines]
Bess McNeill: His name is Jan.
The Minister: I do not know him.
Bess McNeill: [coyly] He's from the lake.
The Minister: You know we do not favor matrimony with outsiders.
An Elder: Can you even tell us what matrimony is?
Bess McNeill: It's when two people are joined in God.
See more »


Featured in Siskel & Ebert: Memo to the Academy - 1997 (1997) See more »


I Did What I Did for Maria
Written by Mitch Murray and Peter Callander
Performed by Tony Christie
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

See more (Spoiler Alert!) »

User Reviews

Incredible and Powerful Film
15 August 2003 | by (Washington, DC) – See all my reviews

Initially, this story about the marriage of young Scottish woman and a Scandinavian oil rig worker had my eyes glazing over. I was ready to hit the eject button about 20 minutes into the movie. But I held in there and slowly was drawn in to their lives, their environment, and the ghastly tragedy that confronts them.

Lars von Trier is a very patient storyteller, as well as being an eccentric movie maker. In Breaking the Waves, he slowly, very slowly unfolds his drama. The problem is; you have to pay careful attention, and this can be difficult. Von Trier's style, with its hand-held camera, lack of artificial lighting, grainy photography, and lingering close-ups can try the patience. The movie is also long, clocking in at about 2½ hours. But if you see it through, the final half hour will blow your mind, and you will have seen one of the best (and most emotionally powerful) movies of 1996, maybe even the whole decade.

91 of 110 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

Message Boards

Recent Posts
Why so hard to purchase? MorganLee1988
Most overrated films peterrichard30
Panic Attack ilia_davidovich
An Absolute Nihilistic Garbage inbar_sh
Greatest Films Ever Made supernintendochalmers11
Any thoughts on the time period? madchen00
Discuss Breaking the Waves (1996) on the IMDb message boards »

Contribute to This Page

Create a character page for: