The life of a serial killer through the major incidents that made him and the examination of his psychosynthesis.
Welcome to the world of a psychopathic murderer! Look at it through his eyes. See how it makes sense to him. Feel how he perceives it, in the scariest possible way, as you and I do. Welcome to the world that Lars von Trier and Matt Dillon built!
Watch back to back Trier’s The House That Jack Built and David Fincher’s Zodiac (2007). The former views the world through the nihilistic eyes of a killer who tries to make sense of our world’s identity, and the latter views it through our ‘existential’ eyes, which try to make sense of the killer’s identity. Regardless of the antithetical points of view and budget, both films’ theme is regarding a serial killer yet, they share no similarities. Not really, anyway. The striking differences in writing, acting, editing, and cinematography – all overseen by the director – are held responsible for creating films worlds apart and confuse film theorists (even more) in regard to ‘What is Cinema?’. Fincher’s meticulous mise-en-scène and precise cuts become an example to avoid for Trier who, in a mockumentary-style of filmmaking shakes his camera as much as he possibly can and cuts wherever it seems not right, ignoring continuity and paying tribute to Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless (1960). Is there ‘right’ or ‘wrong’? No, there is not! The narrative always dictates how the story will unfold and in which way. And Trier’s filmmaking choices of saying the story the way he wants to create one of the most realistic serial killer films you have ever watched. Pay extra attention to the humorous side of the murders. Yes, there is a humorous side to it. Don’t judge it though, remember whose point of view this film is from. Even I smiled at Dillon’s reaction to the body’s melted face that had been dragged on the streets for miles. The film’s scariest parts though are not the murders themselves, but the justification of Jack’s actions and the sick and perverted way they somehow make sense.
My issue is not with the way the story unfolds, but with where it is heading. After an hour and a half of balanced nihilistic philosophy, deranged psychology, and monstrosities, Trier turns the film into a pseudo-sophisticated paradigm that, in my humble opinion, does not any more explain Jack’s actions, takes over the narrative, and expresses how Trier views art, politics, history, war, and anything that comes into his mind. Why do I think of that? Because I’m sure that Jack didn’t commit these murders creating a montage of Trier’s previous films in his head. I know he made a statement about, potentially, not directing another feature, but, in the name of art, he managed to lose the narrative’s focus and turned it into a confusing mess.
In Cannes, some people left the theatre and others gave it a six-minute standing ovation. Some condemned it on social media for its violence and point of view, and others praised it. See for yourselves how parts of ‘The Divine Comedy’ and ‘Faust’ work within the narrative and how the allegories and the history lessons work for you. Love it or loathe it, be it Trier’s last film or not, The House That Jack Built is a must-watch, and whatever I say, nothing will give justice to Matt Dillon’s remarkable performance. If none of the aforementioned sounds appealing or appalling enough, watch it just for Dillon!