Moral com­bat

THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT | Lars von Trier is back. And this time he’s re­ally up­set­ting peo­ple…

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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.


OUT FOR BLOOD Matt Dil­lon is se­rial killer Jack, in what could be Lars von Trier's most di­vi­sive movie yet. Yes re­ally.

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