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Breaking the Waves (1996)

R  |   |  Drama, Romance  |  13 November 1996 (USA)
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Ratings: 7.9/10 from 46,345 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
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Did You Know?


In modern film editing, the original film footage is transferred to video where it is edited to its final cut, then used as a guide for a negative cutter going back to the original film footage. In the case of this film, however, they just recorded the video edit back to 35mm, resulting in its unique, highly grainy look. 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 »


Featured in Anecdotes from 'Europa' (2005) See more »


Blowin' in the Wind
Written by Bob Dylan
Performed by Tom Harboe, Jan Harboe and Ulrik Corlin
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Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

A powerful, original vision. One of the greatest movies of the last ten years.
15 July 2003 | by (Perth, Australia) – See all my reviews

It's a pity that for most people Lars von Trier's involvement with the Dogme group of film makers is the main thing they know about him. Wherever you stand on the Dogme issue (personally I'm all for it as long as they continue to make movies as great as 'Festen' and 'The Idiots'), his brief alliance with the group has overshadowed amazing work like 'Element Of Crime', 'Europa' and 'Breaking The Waves'. 'Breaking The Waves' was made before the Dogme manifesto was formulated, but it can be seen as a step in that direction, with its use of documentary techniques as opposed to the flamboyant and highly stylized approach of von Trier's earlier films. To me the ends justifies the means, and the bottom line is that this is an extraordinary and powerful movie, one of the greatest of the last ten years. The main reason it is so remarkable is because of the devastating performance of Emily Watson, one of the most impressive screen debuts in the history of film. Watson plays Bess McNeill, a naive and odd young woman living in a remote and deeply religious Scottish community. She is so good in this movie she'll leave you speechless! Stellan Skarsgard, a most underrated actor in my opinion,('Insomnia', 'Ronin') plays Bess's husband and is also superb, and the supporting cast includes the late Katrin Cartlidge ('Naked') as Watson's sister-in-law, and von Trier regulars Jean-Marc Barr (almost unrecognizable from his leading role in 'Europa'), as one of Skarsgard's work buddies, and cult legend Udo Kier ('Flesh For Frankenstein', 'The Story Of O') in a cameo as a very nasty piece of work who Bess has the misfortune to encounter. The less you know about this movie the more powerful it will be, and even a jaded cynic like myself was surprised at how effective its spiritual theme was. To me 'Breaking The Waves' is a much better more than von Trier's better known 'Dancer In The Dark', and Watson's performance makes Bjork's look like that of an enthusiastic but not very talented amateur (which of course, is exactly what she is). Highly recommended.

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