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Breaking the Waves (1996)

R  |   |  Drama, Romance  |  13 November 1996 (USA)
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Ratings: 7.9/10 from 46,321 users   Metascore: 76/100
Reviews: 221 user | 114 critic | 28 from Metacritic.com

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) , , 1 more credit »
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Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 42 wins & 24 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Dr. Richardson
Jonathan Hackett ...
Sandra Voe ...
Mikkel Gaup ...
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?


The person being buried is called Anthony Dod Mantle. This is a reference to Lars von Trier's favorite cinematographer - Anthony Dod Mantle - who served as a location scout in the movie. See more »


(at around 7 mins) When Bess is in bed with her sister-in-law, the blanket is on, then off, Bess' shoulder. 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 »


Referenced in From Dogma to Dogville: Don't Try This at Home (2006) See more »


Child in Time
Written by Jon Lord, Ritchie Blackmore, Ian Gillan, Roger Glover and Ian Paice
Performed by Deep Purple
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

We do not need bells in our church to worship God.
25 September 2004 | by (Bookseller of the Blue Ridge) – See all my reviews

This is the story about love. Everyday we experience this breathtaking emotion with both inanimate objects and with other souls. It is when we finally find true love that nothing else in the world seems worthy or good. We work as hard as we can to continue this warmth that we feel in our hearts when true love exists, and sometimes that means going to a level we never thought imaginable.

That is the central theme of Lars von Trier's epic, Breaking the Waves. Love has no boundaries as we watch Bess do everything possible (and more) to keep the relationship with her husband together during the roughest of times. Emily Watson controls the character Bess giving her best performance ever. The emotion and serenity that is felt, not only behind the character of Bess, but also behind Watson's eyes is phenomenal. It is not often that Hollywood is able to capture this sort of raw emotion, but Watson pulled it off with incredible talent.

Outside of Watson's character, there is the story. Lars von Trier does a spectacular job of continually building on the foundation that he has begun.

Watson is his foundation, and Trier builds this amazing world around her. In this film, everything from talking to God to reverberating stories to her husband while he is in the hospital only helps build the story to even higher heights. I will be honest; I shed tears at the end of this film. It will pull at every heart muscle that you have and really make you look at your significant other and truly feel the power of love.

This is a love story, but not like one we have seen in a very long time. I don't think we will see anything similar to this again. It will be hard for Hollywood to emulate such raw talent, groundbreaking direction, and life-changing story.

Thank you Lars von Trier for your imagination and passion for love.

Grade: ***** out of *****

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