The House That Jack Built
Boundary-pushing cinematic visionary Lars von Trier (Antichrist) returns with one of his most daring, masterfully provocative works yet. In five audacious episodes, failed architect and arch-sociopath Jack (Matt Dillon) recounts the elaborately orchestrated murders-each, as he views them, a towering work of art-that define his 12-year “career” as a serial killer in the Pacific Northwest. Mixing pitch-black humor, transcendent surrealism, and renegade musings on everything from history to architecture to cinema, von Trier fashions a radical, blazingly personal inquiry into the violence, art, and the twin acts of creation and destruction.
I just arrived back home from seeing the new directors cut of The House that Jack Built, and had to immediately put pen to paper. I must say, I barely know where to begin, there is so much going on in this film, and the gruesome scenes are forever burned in my mind. I was so excited for this movie to come out, partly because of the story itself, and partly because I love anything starring Matt Dillon, he’s been a favorite of mine for a long time. But never has he played a colder or more heartless character like Jack. The film fully lived up to my every expectation. Those gruesome moments I just mentioned are extreme, and that even feels like an understatement. I must have some slight mental issues that I’m not aware of because I cannot wait to see the uncut version of this one!
I’m also a huge fan of Lars von Trier, with favorites such as Antichrist and Dancer in the Dark. By the way, Dancer in the Dark has to be one of the most depressing films I have ever seen. The House that Jack Built is divided into 5 sections, which follows Jack over the course of twelve years as being a serial killer, and depicts the murders that occur from it. Throughout the film, he has side conversations with a character named ‘Verge’ (a play on Virgil, Hell’s guide in Dante’s Inferno?) in between the depictions of the incidents, most of which revolve around discussion of philosophy, ethics and even Jack’s view of the world.
I read that this movie was originally created to be a TV miniseries, which I found interesting enough. Another interesting fact was that it was the first film in history that came with a warning on the tickets (for violent scenes) at the premiere of the Cannes 2018 film competition. Over one-hundred people are said to have walked out of the premier, and those that remained gave it a ten-minute standing ovation because of one scene in particular where a younger version of Jack (Emil Tholstrup) is shown cutting off a duckling’s leg, then puts it back into the pond to watch it drown. In the same article, it stated that PETA defended this film, claiming that it positively draws much-needed attention to the link between childhood animal abuse that ends up as a result of adult psychopathy and for the realistic special effects.
Jack shows an extreme lack of emotional interiority and the inability to empathize with others, a true sociopath who is also extremely intelligent. This becomes truly obvious when we see him practicing various emotional expressions in the mirror, he does this so as not to stand out when in the company of others, while the only true emotions we ever get see from Jack are irritation and anger, however rare they are. The story is told perfectly, with Jack portrayed as one very sick and messed up man, one that we cannot allow ourselves to route for. We watch him on his bizarre and twisted journey while we listen to his thoughts, his feelings, his every opinion, all of it downright disturbing. His irritation is fully realized from the very first incident, where he gives a woman whose car has broken down (Uma Thurman) a ride. We see this irritation grow stronger as she provokes him, claiming that he looks like a serial killer but is probably way too much of a wimp to ever kill anyone. It just gets crazier and crazier from there on out.
I can understand most people’s negative comments that will no doubt come from this film. There are certainly many moments that cross the line, and that in itself is another understatement. Many people will not like this film, but I can understand why. It’s a powerful film, yes it has some humorous parts, but believe me, you’ll be grateful for those. I know we’ve all seen brutal and sadistic killings in movies before, but you have to remember, this IS a Lars Von Trier movie, so you can trust it’s done in a way that we’ve not seen before even if we ‘think’ we have. It’s not pleasant to watch by any scale, it’s extremely disturbing, but it’s also quite intellectual and moving. I no doubt appreciate it for what it is and all of the performances were more than excellent. Go see it if you dare, but keep in mind, this is not a film for the faint of heart. That should say it all right there.
Title: The House That Jack Built
Release Date: November 28, 2018
Runtime: 2 hours, 32 minutes
Genre: Horror, Crime, Drama
Studio: IFC Films
Starring: Matt Dillon, Bruno Ganz, Uma Thurman
MPAA Rated: R
Director(s): Lars von Trier
Reviewed by: Mad Hatter
Our Rating: 3.6 /5
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