Clearly, all this is designed to provoke adverse reactions. But what if instead of outrage and indignation, the response was a numb shrug? Don't get me wrong — The House That Jack Built is definitely something to see. But what's most surprising is that it's just as often inane as unsettling.
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The film’s most offensive qualities have nothing to do with its grotesque violence and displays of human mutilation, but its terminal navel-gazing and reductive, borderline harmful ideas about art.
The House That Jack Built is an often-horrifying, sadistic dive into a psychotic internal monologue, with intellectual detours about the nature of art in the world today, and puts considerable effort into stimulating discomfort at key moments. If you meet the work on those terms, or at least accept the challenge of wrestling with impeccable filmmaking that dances across moral barriers, it’s also possibly brilliant.
Whether there’s any worth to be found in The House That Jack Built will depend on the viewer’s interest in delving deep into von Trier’s tortured psyche. It’s unlikely anyone will empathize with him and it’s certain many will find the film execrable, but those willing to indulge his excess are offered a wealth of fascinating material.
Perhaps The House That Jack Built is the kind of film you make when you fervently want someone to stop you, to save you from yourself and the demons of your worst nature. Perhaps, this time, we should oblige.
After all is said and done, ‘The House that Lars Built’ is an impressive construction for an obnoxious purpose. In fact, the best criticism comes from Talking Heads and their song Psycho Killer: “You’re talking a lot but you’re not really saying anything.”
It is an ordeal of gruesomeness and tiresomeness that was every bit as exasperating as I had feared.
It is two and a half hours of self-reflexive torture porn with an entire McDonald’s warehouse of chips on its shoulder, and a handful of genuinely provocative ideas which, exasperatingly, go nowhere much.
The film becomes an even broader consideration of individual fascinations and follies, of ways of responding to art without the boundaries of morality and reason.
Wielding the same grim power as his most obsessive, tormented work, Jack is deeply embedded within its creator’s psyche, and while the results may be cathartic for him, the movie is only intermittently arresting for the rest of us.