During its Cannes premiere, Lars von Trier’s latest film The House That Jack Built incited mass walkouts and outrage amongst audience members. With this, came an immense amount of excitement and free marketing for the film. What exactly caused audience members to be so repulsed that they had to leave the theater? The answer: a vile and gruesome look into the mind of an “artist.”
Von Trier is not one to shy away from taboo aspects of life, and it is evident within his new film, his first in five years. The film follows Jack, who is expertly portrayed by Matt Dillon in his most impressive role to date, as he recounts various murders over the course of his “artistic career” to an unknown guide.
What makes The House That Jack Built so brilliant is how von Trier connects each murder to a concrete ideal, not only within Jack’s mind, but how the Danish filmmaker links it to his views on art. The House That Jack Built is more than a self-indulgent piece of cinema or a film that is meant to be as provocative as possible for the sake of it; it is a meta-critique of how both society and artists view art in and of itself.
The House That Jack Built has many moments of extended dialogue wherein the film essentially pauses for a “slideshow.” Within these scenes, Jack attempts to break down exactly what was going on in his mind during his murderous rampage. However, it feels as if von Trier is talking directly to the audience about his career at times, and what it indeed takes to be an artist. This film will surely be remembered for the graphic cruelty that is depicted, but at its core, it is a deep look into the psyche of an extremely renowned director.
Von Trier should not receive the sole credit for this outstanding film, however. As stated previously, Dillon is truly hypnotizing to watch as Jack allows his psychopathic tendencies to become careless and rash. As audiences get thrust deeper into his mindset, it becomes increasingly difficult to turn away, even as his acts of violence become more severe and downright atrocious. One scene that is sure to be talked about is involving Dillon and Riley Keough. It is one of the few moments in a horror scene where the stereotypes most associated with the genre seem to be extremely intentional. Due to Jack’s unreliable narration, and Keough showcasing distress effortlessly as “Simple,” the observations made make the finale all the more revolting.
Perhaps the most interesting observation about The House That Jack Built is von Trier’s penchant for confusing the emotions of audience members. To put it bluntly: this film is comical. For a film that basks in the brutality of a serial killer, some may be shocked at just how witty it is. A few scenes seem to be written for purely comedic intent. However, von Trier is quick to shock the viewer once more. It is moments like these that allow the film to work on multiple levels, never feeling too forceful until it needs to.
Prior to the epilogue, which is unlike anything seen in the film thus far, many viewers that are familiar with historical literature should be able to pick up on the allegory that has been at play throughout the film. Within the epilogue, however, it almost seems as if von Trier was skeptical of the viewer’s ability to understand this metaphor, so he addresses it directly and concludes the film by exposing the allegory very overtly. This clear message almost removes a layer of curiosity to the rest of the film and, although the ending is very satisfying, it may leave a bit of a sour taste in the mouths that crave more ambiguity.
All in all, von Trier is a filmmaker who loves to shock and can get many to listen whether they seemingly want to or not; The House That Jack Built is no exception. With scenes that could top a list of most disturbing cinematic moments, The House That Jack Built is another impressive building block in the profound auteur’s career.
Did the mass walkouts at the Cannes festival leave you excited for The House That Jack Built or make you want to stay as far away from this film as possible? Let us know down below!
The House That Jack Built will be released in theaters and VOD on December 14th.