THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT | Lars von Trier is back. And this time he’s really upsetting people…
The House That Jack Built is Lars von Trier’s most controversial film yet – quite some statement, you might think. Matt Dillon plays Jack: architect, engineer, connoisseur of European art and history, and serial killer; mainly women, but children too. He arranges their bodies into horrific tableaux in a walk-in freezer.
Throughout the film, Jack recounts his 60 kills to Verge (Bruno Ganz), who offers counterarguments to his rationalisations and justifications. The pair also discuss the sexual politics of misogyny (the action is set in the ’70s, but these dialogues seem aimed at the #MeToo movement), gun culture and the Third Reich – this last, presumably, as a meta-response to von Trier being made persona non grata at Cannes in 2011 following an ill-advised Nazi joke. The entire film feels like an internal debate. It’s a provocation, certainly, but also a confession and an apology.
“You can see it that way,” responds von Trier, who’s clearly in a bad place, his words halting, his voice cracked and his body trembling. “But when I do something, my main characters – and all the characters, for that matter – are part of me, and reactions to part of me. Jack is me, but I’m a few steps behind, because I don’t kill.”
But is the debate between Jack and Verge a discussion that he has in his own head – on the one hand defending his actions, and on the other meting out self-punishment?
“Yeah, that’s pretty precise.
If I had made this film earlier in my career, Jack would have got away with it. But he doesn’t. I don’t believe in punishment, but somehow it felt right and clean. I thought that if Jack was a part of me, then I’d throw him out: ‘And don’t you come back.’”
Judging from the walkouts at Cannes and the furious articles that followed, the self-loathing and atonement in
The House That Jack Built are not seen as enough. Many, clearly, felt that the mea culpa coda was insincere, or a case of von Trier wanting to have his cake and eat it given the litany of distressing images that have come before. Calling the female characters Lady 1, Lady 2 and Lady 3 doesn’t help, and nor does Jack naming Riley Keough’s character Simple before mutilating her.
“When you put it that way, I can see what you mean,” admits von Trier. “But then they [Jack and Verge] have a discussion: if he hates women, and feels superior, stuff like that. I don’t feel superior to women at all. On the contrary.”
The jury's still out, but this is a film you have to see for yourself to have an opinion on.
ETA | 14 DECEMBER / THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT OPENS THIS WINTER.
OUT FOR BLOOD Matt Dillon is serial killer Jack, in what could be Lars von Trier's most divisive movie yet. Yes really.