Written by Jake Mason |
Controversial Danish filmmaker Lars Von Trier returns to filmmaking after his five-year break with his latest film The House That Jack Built.
The film centres around serial killer and engineer Jack (Matt Dillon) as he converses with a mysterious stranger known as Verge (Bruno Ganz), who he details several of his “incidents” to.
Von Trier, throughout his career, has not been averse to wanting to shock the audience, his films are regularly graphic in their depiction of violence and sex. Yet this seems to be Von Trier’s only trick, and this is made incredibly obvious by his latest film. Every moment of violence is blunt and to the point but without any real purpose. Whatever it is Von Trier wants to convey to the audience simply seems to go amiss, especially judging by the audience at my screening, their vocal reactions to the violence were of disgust and somewhat of morbid joy. This feels as if Von Trier is creating torture porn with no nuance, with nothing much to say.
Von Trier wants people to talk about his films but without actually making anything profound. There is a scene in the film in which Jack states to Verge that art can be made out of the most horrible places and contexts. He compares the atrocities of Adolf Hitler and the Holocaust to art. Not only is this wildly insensitive but it is a blatant attempt from Von Trier to continue the controversy of his remarks about Hitler during a Q&A at the Cannes Film Festival for his film Melancholia. In this interview, Von Trier refers to himself as a Nazi sympathiser as a passing joke. For this, he was banned from Cannes. Using this Hitler imagery in The House That Jack Built, Von Trier continues to ride off of this controversy to keep his film relevant and talked about as opposed to trying to make a genuinely thought-provoking film.
Possibly one of the shallowest aspects of this film is its self-referential nature. As Jack and Verge discuss humankind’s greatest art, the audience is treated to a montage of clips from Von Trier’s previous films, which is a blatant sign of Von Trier’s narcissism as a filmmaker. This is what makes it very difficult to separate the art from the artist with films such as Von Trier’s. It becomes quite clear that these are not just thoughts of the protagonist but also Von Trier’s own thoughts. As Jack claims that men are unfairly never labelled the victim in cases of sexual assault and murder, you begin to realise that this is really what Von Trier thinks.
And finally, possibly the biggest insult of them all, is the films profound lack of faith in humanity. In one incident, Jack allows his victim Simple (Riley Keough) to scream for help as loudly as she wants, no one will come to her aid as Jack has observed in all of his incidents’. This, as well as “men are never the victims,” highlights Von Trier’s ignorance to the good that people can do in the worst of situations.
If you look to any event of terrorism, the amount of people risking their lives to help the injured or vulnerable is moving. Jack statement here is reminiscent of Donald Trump’s claims that he could shoot somebody and not lose any voters. The comparison that Von Trier only further highlights the films hyperbolic cynicism. In the current political climate, the negativity of The House That Jack Built and Lars Von Trier himself is not what is needed. This cynicism will get us nowhere.
In short, is the film worth seeing? Absolutely not. It might not be the worst film of 2018, but it is easily the one that made me the angriest.