The House that Jack Built, the latest feature from Danish auteur Lars Von Trier, has just secured a cast and a distributor. Dealing with Jack, a highly intelligent serial killer, and his 12 year killing spree, the film will star Matt Dillon as the titular killer as well as Riley Keough and Danish star Sofie Grabol. Considering the plot, it seems like business as usual for Von Trier: an expert provocateur who acts as a magnet for controversy. A lot of this controversy is unfairly levelled at Von Trier and much of it, to put it bluntly, is rather pointless. In reality, there’s reason enough for loving or hating the man. Before making that decision, however, in Von Trier’s case it is crucial to discard pre-conceived notions which controversy breeds and let his work speak for itself.
With that in mind, where to start? With a filmography as large and as eclectic as his, this is a complex question with no real definitive answer. Personally, I feel The Kingdom, Von Trier’s little known 1994 mini-series, is as good a place as any. It is indicative of everything that the man was to become; praised and maligned in equal measures. The Kingdom is simultaneously terrifying, troubling and downright hilarious. If nothing else, it’s worth watching for the surreal closing credits to each episode where Mr. Von Trier himself walks out on screen to talk you through what you’ve just witnessed.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Antichrist is a film, perhaps deserving of its controversy, which really must be seen to be believed. It might seem hard to argue that a film featuring castration, parental grief and sadomasochism could be anything resembling beautiful, however, in its own inimitable way, it is just that. Written when Von Trier was in the grips of a deep depression, the film represents a brutally cathartic, dense and unforgiving treatise on the darkest regions of the human psyche. Don’t go in with false pretences: you absolutely won’t have a good time watching this. However, given the time and attention it deserves, Antichrist can be an endlessly thought-provoking experience, even if the thoughts it provokes aren’t particularly comfortable ones.
If space would allow, pages upon pages could be dedicated to Von Trier and his divisive back-catalogue. Perhaps however, this would be missing the point. Really there’s no definitive answer to where to start with Von Trier because his films, whether you love them or hate them, will mean vastly different things to different people: this, I feel, is to the credit of the man’s unique and masterful ability as an auteur.
Image: Davidlohr Bueso