Breaking the Waves

Breaking the Waves is a 1996 psychological drama film directed and co-written by Lars von Trier and starring English stage actress Emily Watson as her feature film acting debut, along with Stellan Skarsgård, a frequent collaborator with von Trier. Set in the Scottish Highlands in the early 1970s, it is about an unusual young woman and of the love she has for her husband, who asks her to have sex with other men when he becomes immobilised from a work accident.


Bess McNeill is a young and pretty Scottish woman, who has, in the past, had treatment for unspecified mental health illness after the death of her brother. She marries oil rig worker Jan Nyman, a Danish non-churchgoer, despite disapproval from her community and her Free Scottish Presbyterian Calvinist church. Bess is steadfast and pure of heart, but quite simple and childlike in her beliefs. During her frequent visits to the church, she prays to God and carries on conversations with Him in her own voice, believing that He is responding directly through her.