He was brought to life by another monster – a sacred demon of the world cinema Lars von Trier, having filmed his so long anticipated movie The House That Jack Built (Denmark, France, Germany, Sweden). The film debuted at the Cannes Film Festival, marking his return after a seven-year ban, caused by his unreasonable statements during the press conference of the drama Melancholia. Over 100 hundred people walked out of the premiere of The House That Jack Built, outraged. Those of remained met the film with a round of applause.
Actually, Jack isn’t only a proper name, it’s also a device for lifting something heavy. And Jack uses this device to kill his first victim – a flirty and annoying lady performed by Uma Thurman. This is, perhaps, the funniest moment in the film.
First, Lars von Trier planned a television series but in February 2016 he announced that he would release a feature film. In May of the same year, after the fundamental research of the history of serial killers the director finished the script.
Yes, The House That Jack Built is a film about a serial killer. There are 4 such violent episodes as with Uma Thurman or “incidents” as it’s said in titers. In each of them, Jack (Matt Dillon) chooses different tools for the murder. And in each of them, there’s own director’s work, own expression of violence, own text.
The text is an important component here, perhaps, the most important among all Trier’s films. Since the character doesn’t just comment on the events as in Trier’s The Element of Crime (1984) or in Nymphomaniac (2013) – he chronicles to invisible, for a certain while, partner named Verge (Bruno Ganz, one of the stars of Wings of Desire by Wim Wenders, 1987) who leads him down by mysterious garden paths. So, the whole film is retrospection. This is Jack’s farewell look at his life. This is also a self-defense speech on the last trial. Besides, this is a tour of world culture and history, with the corresponding abundance of illustrations, including those from the films of Trier’s. Actually, there’s a heap of different kind of reminiscences and allusions: the paintings of Botticelli, Rembrandt, Courbet, Gauguin, Klimt, Munch, William Blake and Goethe poetry, music by David Bowie and Bach (performed by the Canadian genius, eccentric Glenn Gould), antique, gothic and totalitarian architecture of Albert Speer. Dismantling and untangling these connotations and symbols can last forever, but it’s by far more interesting to understand why Trier needed this “layer cake” of culture, philosophy and violence.
By the way, Jack is an engineer. And he builds a real house but breaks what has been started because he’s not satisfied with results. He’s a perfectionist. And it seems that the only art in which he’s able to achieve desired results is a murder; a bright illustration is another comic episode when Jack returns to a scene of crime dozens of times to hide the evidence.
The films with a protagonist in the role of a serial killer isn’t a big surprise, starting from a murky Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986) and American Psycho (2000). High-skilled professionals with their own philosophy also dominate this genre – Hannibal Lecter is rather a prominent figure. But Jack is another matter.
Matt Dillon (born in 1964) had a rocketing start of his career, having cast in Rumble Fish (1983, the director is none other than Francis Ford Coppola) and in Drugstore Cowboy (1986, Gus Van Sant). In both films he performed the leader of a band of petty criminals but in The House That Jack Built, his astonishing come back, he plays the role of someone different: a cold-blooded sociopath. And this isn’t so simple either.
He’s stuffed with high-brow culture conscious; his strive to sort out things even under the threat to be revealed; his conviction in the indifference of humanity and many other similar traits create something familiar. Any attentive admirer recognizes this portrait of a serial artist: it’s Trier himself. Basically, his former Nymphomaniac with Charlotte Gainsbourg and The House That Jack Built are two perspectives of his internal landscape, unless in 2013 he spoke love and sex language and here he resorts to tortures and death. Verge with whom Jack talks and argues is Vergilius himself and he leads this character down the classical circles of hell (sometimes illustrated by Kitsch slow-mode pictures) to the lowest the most painful level. Jack is a tool for the director’s self-expression, turned inside-out alter-ego of Trier; the extent to which the first one is unshakable and thick-skinned – the second one is sensitive and melancholic-prone. Both are ostracized by the world, both are extraordinarily good at something, both, it’s worth repeating, are perfectionists and their “houses” will be never finished.
Though blood and a horrible attraction of cruelty, Trier once again tries shouting to the world. Too subtle for such physiological art as cinematography. Too harsh for the modern times, where agreements and compromises dominate life. Too maniac, to drop all of this.
Dmytro Desyateryk, “Day” – specially for opinionua.com