The House that Jack Built Lars von Trier (Dmk, Europudding 2018)

The House that Jack Built Lars von Trier (Dmk, Europudding 2018)

The House that Jack Built   Lars von Trier (Dmk, Europudding 2018) Matt Dillon, Uma Thurman, Bruno Ganz

viewed Tyneside Cinema Newcastle 23 Dec 2018; ticket £9.75

it’s a wrap around

Serial film maker Lars Von Trier wraps his gore fest around a dialogue with Verge (This character played by Bruno Ganz, representing the Virgil of Dante’s Inferno) as he guides eponymous Jack down through the caves towards the gates of hell.

In fact most of the dialogue, spoken to Bruno Ganz by Dillon in a po-faced de-flected sort of monotone, is the obverse of the pseudo-philosophical twaddle that permeates the films of Terrence Mallick and his numerous imitators. During one sequence, Jack talks to Verge about Blake’s vision of a humanity divided into the Tygers and the Lambs, seeing the Tyger as the creative artist to whom all is permitted. But just because Jack’s lines veer towards a psychopathic demonic logic, this lends them no more than a specious authenticity comparible to the moronic insights dropped from the Tree of Life.

In fact a lot of the dialogue between Jack and Verge (Their voices are given a synthetic deep bass treatment with heavy reverb) is densely expressed and difficult to decipher, but you get the general drift. Jack is smart, self satisfied but occassionaly mildly self critical, solipsistic and pleased with the logic he has contructed to justify his deeds.

Jack’s character as a serial killer was apparently deeply researched by von Trier who as a result has come up with a movie-fit protagonist, an assembly line character who combines all the traits of out favourite movie killers. Jack doesn’t do empathy, in particular when he is on the job; he has OCD which not only lends a few moments of levity to the goings-on in particular in the penultimate section, but also gives him lines to feed to Verge about his need for meticulous order and attention to detail. Jack through killing discovers he is an Schlachtkunstler (slaughter artist) who expresses himself through the creativity of his chosen mode of expression. In particular he is driven to photographing and then freezing the people he has killed.

With the bodies frozen, he takes to arranging the bodies in increasingly complex tableaux. This might be seen as a savage satire on the cancerous spread of the narcissistic art ethos through the social body of USA and Europe (and also beyond). But this insight into the theory and practice of contemporary art was better expressed in Ostlund’s ‘The Square’. Von Trier’s satire (if satire it is) is highly derivative. In relation to Jack’s scene of crime photographs (which he fashionably captures on an old camera with analogue film {though we are spared wtinessing the development and printing of the images} ) combined with the grotesque posing of his victims for the shots, the effect is that it is all too familiar: we have seen stuff like this before. The final coup de film the frozen house of corpses (a concept credited to Lars von Trier – how desperate is he for recognition?) IS anti-climatic because its appearance as a construct has been so OBVIOUSLY telegraphed.

It might be Von Trier’s point that the House of Jack Built is intended as parody. His intention being to demonstrate the desensitising and distancing effects of this type of film.   As if we hadn’t noticed. But if so this is an inconsequential intention as by now movies made in this killer genre mode, can only be parodies. And you can’t parody a parody; you produce just another parody and there is no enlightenment or seeing from the light thrown by this type of candle.

From the manner in which events develop by way of Jack’s film career, it appears at first that von Trier might be contriving a filmic vehicle that implies some moral coda governing Jack’s decisions.   Von Trier films have a muscular morality in the sense that many of his characters actions follow an unwavering and undeviating conceptual and behavioural logic, at whatever the cost. His character’s behaviour is moral according to their own code.   In the first incident, his victim incites her own demise by invoking the curse of Genet. In accusing Jack of being a serial killer, she opens the box and he becomes one. The greed of the second victim brings about her downfall and the third victim together with her two young boys is gunned down by the gun she had hoped the boys themselves would learn to use to kill. But when Von Trier gets to the point in his script where Jack mutilates and murders his prostitute girlfriend (who’s weakness is to be blind to the warning signs), and the final set up where Jack plans to kill half a dozen men with a single full metal jacket bullet, all we are left with as a source of moral justification is Jack’s narcissistic self importance as rattles off to Verge the sort of mumbo-jumbo you find in neo-Nietzschian self help manuals: that which does not kill me makes me stronger….etc.

Who’s the little boy at the piano?

The House that Jack Built has elements within it that suggested to me, a level of identification on Von Trier’s part with his material. One of von Trier’s structural devices (another is his now fashionable division of the movie into ‘incidents” or chapters. Hardly a film is made today without the director borrowing from this litterary device) is to insert into the scenario a series of flashbacks to Jack’s childhood. On what looks like 8mm footage, we see the image of an isolated talented boy obsessively practicing the piano; we see the same boy trapped like a prisoner in the clutches of a certain kind of bourgeois family bent on keeping up appearances. I wondered if this material was the director’s re-creation of a filmic substitute past for himself; Von Trier’s compensatory in-filling into the House that Jack Built, of his own re-imagined childhood. The fabrication of the missing past of the serial film maker as the serial killer he might have been.

Just a thought.

adrin neatrour



Author: Star & Shadow

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *