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article imageReview: ‘The House that Jack Built’ is purposely divisive & provocative Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Dec 16, 2018 in Entertainment
‘The House that Jack Built’ is Lars Von Trier’s latest picture to either stimulate or insult audiences, depending on the viewer’s sensibilities.
A bold act may be interpreted as a display of courage, a deed inspired by an inflated ego or a means of agitation. The motivations can be as important as the action itself, though one often overshadows the other — particularly when the product is offensive. But if the goal is to evoke a reaction, there is no more certain avenue than depicting a heinous feat with graphic detail. Arthouse cinema’s enfant terrible, Lars Von Trier, has been doing exactly this for years, but The House that Jack Built may double as one of his most self-reflective films as well.
Jack (Matt Dillon) is having an off-screen conversation with an unseen man named Verge (Bruno Ganz). As the two take a mysterious journey, Jack describes the five key events that marked his career as a serial killer. However, Verge is not just a passive listener — he continuously challenges Jack on his reasons for killing, as well as his opinions about his victims. Jack is quite indiscriminate when choosing his targets and doesn’t prescribe to just one method of murder, which defies basic psychology while making him more fearsome. There are also strange tangents stemming from Jack’s explanations, consisting of documentary footage and psychedelic montages.
Von Trier’s films have frequently been accused of misogyny — a charge he vehemently denies, but can’t seem to shed. This movie, incidentally, appears to be a direct response to these allegations. The women Jack murders are portrayed as unintelligent fools who invite violence, which he delivers with varying levels of cruelty. One of the most difficult sequences is the massacre of a mother and her two children during what was supposed to be a pleasant picnic. The horror of these brutal slayings are enhanced by Jack’s perception of his crimes, which he compares to nature’s order and fine art.
The other half of Jack’s compulsion is posing his victims in morbid tableaus that he photographs. The pictures are initially for his personal satisfaction, but he eventually decides to share his talents with the world. Freezing the bodies in unnatural positions is also added to his repertoire. As Jack tries to convince Verge of the validity of his art, one can hear Von Trier defending his own creations from calls of perversity and vulgarity. Yet, as is typical, the filmmaker’s arguments are thought-provoking, even when they are wrapped in indecency.
Von Trier’s final assault is the repeated use of David Bowie’s “Fame,” which serves no other purpose except to antagonize audiences. The repeated interludes featuring the same section of the song gradually becomes trying and its malicious intent increasingly obvious. Yet, Dillon’s performance rises above all the mischief to deliver one of the actor’s best turns in years. His identifiable voice carries the narrative, while his ability to tap into the darkness again and again brings these villainous personalities authenticity. Ganz’s role is suggestive of Charon as he leads Jack through a waterway towards an anticipated destination with still unpredictable results. Uma Thurman and Riley Keough also appear briefly as a couple of Jack’s victims who’ve earned a bit more screen time in his account.
Director: Lars von Trier
Starring: Matt Dillon, Bruno Ganz and Uma Thurman
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