“The House that Jack Built” by Lars von Trier: The demiurge and its annoyances

Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier signs his serial-killer film that is “The House that Jack Built”, a disguised autobiography, confusing but stimulating.

Legitimate culture likes to support itself with great symbols. For example, the Goethe tree, the oak on the Ettersberg hill near Weimar in Thuringia under. Which the author of Faust and Elective Affinities, as the legend has it. That would have liked to be meditated while dreaming his stories before to write them.

But the symbol is reversed into “diabole” as Bernard Stiegler would say, in the sense that the symbolic uniting the divided parts. That is nothing more than the diabolical mark of an impossible reunification. When the same tree associated with culture is the only one. The Nazis will have preserved when they built the concentration camp Buchenwald in July 1937. This story has enough paradigmatic value for Lars von Trier. That to mobilize on the occasion of his new feature film The House that Jack Built. It as the dialectical proof of a culture historically turned against itself, undermined by its own contrarieties. At the same time contrarian and thwarted.

There are three reasons in Lars von Trier’s new film that we could say. Not that they necessarily break taboos (after all, there are no objective taboos. But only those that society considers as such). But that they run the risk of undermining a common and contemporary sensibility: The status of the female characters in the film, all victims and “stupid”, as emphasized by a dialogue. It likely to favor a charge of misogyny, a scene of brutality of which. That are victims of children, finally, the evocation of Nazism and its technical and architectural achievements for demonstration purposes.

It would be futile and misleading

However, to consider these audacities to be the mere provocative concern. That of an artist pushing the cork a little further, by play or unconsciousness. Because what emerges from what is more to be considered as a cinematographic essay than as a macabre comedy or an apocalyptic horror film. It is the desire to review what would found a definition of Evil and the conditions of his representation. Subsequently. This is to say perhaps a reflection on the role and place of any morality in a particular human activity, that of art. It was probably necessary. For that, a remedy of shock, the refusal of any half-measure in favor of an abrupt rhetoric willingly disturbing.

The film comes in the form of a dialogue in voice over, a conversation between a named Jack (dazzling Matt Dillon). And a certain Verge (Bruno Ganz). In fact the resurrection of the Virgil who guided Dante through the circles of Hell in The Divine Comedy. Jack is a serial killer quietly commenting on his murders. He looking for a meaning he may not find and what his interlocutor is trying to answer, an image of skeptical and rational questioning.

Built in chapters called “Incidents”

The film by Lars von Trier details various moments. Which are as many assassinations committed by the main character and seized in their prelude and their immediate consequences.

The character of the serial killer is a recurrent and banal creature, even derisory. They having been used by a certain cinema of terror. Cinematographic bogeyman, but also revealing a certain absurdity of existence (he is the very incarnation of fatal chance). The serial killer is today the exhausted figure of a cinema. That the film of Lars von Trier fun to deconstruct, between dread and burst of laughter.

Each murder reveals both the vulgar and idiotic nature of the victims themselves (the first is particularly annoying, the second lets in the murderer because it is driven by greed, etc.) and the toil of the victim. A little dead worker, particularly neurotic as well as psychotic. Who will meticulously set up macabre and grotesque installations with the corpses of his victims.

A medieval alchemist

But psychology is exhausted in explaining what is going to change in grand design. That of transforming the mortuary spots of the killer into works of art. The bodies of the murdered become parts of an artistic project built on death and destruction themselves. The allegory that is now revealed under the eyes of the viewer poses, with humor. The question of art, its aims and the very conditions of its existence. The filmmaker’s vision is undoubtedly less immoral than amoral. And The House That Jack Built notes the limits of rational understanding and common ethical prescriptions. That to grasp the irreducibility of aesthetic activity.

This conception of art for art, or more exactly unhindered art, undoubtedly refers to Lars von Trier’s longstanding rejection of modernity. It is, in particular, in the paradox of looking with candid and scandalous detachment at once the horrors of history. That lies the truth of a unique and exhilarating masterpiece.

After his trilogy “feminine” (Antichrist, Melancholia, Nymphomaniac). The filmmaker continues to assert himself as a medieval alchemist, an artist scrutinizing the abymes of an original world to find the drive impulse. The secret formula, between kitsch and sublime, between humor and dark romanticism. Which would give the key at the same time of an explanation of the Universe and its mysterious laws, as well as the possibility of its symbolic transposition.


Rating: R (for strong disturbingviolence/sadistic behavior, grisly images, language, and nudity)
Genre: Drama, Horror, Mystery & Suspense
Directed By: Lars von Trier
Stars: Matt Dillon, Bruno Ganz, Uma Thurman
Written By: Lars von Trier
In Theaters: Dec 14, 2018 Limited
On Disc/Streaming: Dec 14, 2018
Runtime: 151 minutes
Studio: IFC Films

Emma Stefansky
Von Trier may be a provocateur, but his brand of provocation seems to be growing stale.

Paul Byrnes
If this shrill, manipulative, sledge-hammer allegory is right for our times, give me Dante any day. Von Trier has certainly done better, but never worse.

Anne Elizabeth Moore
Here, examined, we’re given instead raw narcissism, humdrum in the end, a soul worth glimpsing only for a second before casting aside. Nothing to behold.

Terry Mesnard
For 152 minutes, we’re taken on this journey through increasingly volatile and repugnant situations .. until we supposedly come out … with a renewed sense of knowledge.

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