Review: The House That Jack Built

Director(s)Lars von Trier
Principal CastMatt Dillon as Jack
Bruno Ganz as Verge
Release Date2018
Running Time 155 minutes

This movie proves immensely hard to review. I think I’ve written,deleted, and re-written it multiple times but nothing seems to really encapsulate the difficulty that is The House That Jack Built. The movie follows Jack, a serial killer with OCD, who recounts a series of his murders juxtaposed against a discussion of art, architecture, violence, and beauty . It’s a one of the kind movie that isn’t something everyone should watch.

The movie is brutal. Not just brutal as in gore. Brutal as in some of the scenes in the movie are genuinely depraved, intentionally made to just shock you and offend your senses. There are awful scenes involving animals and children. Some people might think the movie is overindulgent in its violence. It can definitely feel misogynistic , as each victim feels more and more like a caricature of women. They’re nothing like real people. The thing is, that’s the point. The excessive focus on these victims is artistic preference , not a larger commentary on women. Or is it? What counts as art? The movies violence is in service of questioning the very idea of what counts as proper art. Is it just pieces that follow the lines and dictates of a sensible society? von Trier and Jack decisively answer no, as they cascade through this bloody adventure.

The movie is edited in a way that makes the subject matter more thematically poignant. Jack narrates each of his murders in the first person to an unseen person, Verge. The murders play, but are accompanied by commentary, tangents by Jack, and cut-aways to “genuine” pieces of art. The movie is interspersed in between them, almost a provocation that the movie is high art in a similar fashion. The violence is “musical”. It gives the movie a strange documentary feeling that keep it feeling sophisticated, while also provoking discussion on the position of the movie in relation to what we consider aesthetic.

Matt Dillon is absolutely stunning as the lead. He captures obsessive disorder combined with quirky serial killer in a way that feels like sitcom gone horribly wrong. If you’ve watched Monk by Andy Breckman, then just imagine Adrian Monk + a bucket of murder maniac + two cups of art enthusiast and you should have a close enough picture of Jack. Without his nonchalant, eccentric attitude and prioritization of issues, the movie wouldn’t work. His performance gives the movie a dark comedic feeling. He does awful things, but the way he processes and acts in regards to those actions is hilarious. There are moments where I was shocked at the violence, and then within a few minutes I was laughing again. It’s messed up.

The way that von Trier approaches violence is both horrifying and depressing. The movie constantly reiterates that violence is kind of constitutive of all human interaction. The universe is uncaring and no one out there will really help you. The way the movie hammers the point is unrelenting and I was left feeling fairly alone in a weird existential way after watching. This is not the movie you watch if you want to feel good about life.

However, the violence at some point becomes too distracting. I was never bored during the movie, but I did struggle to understand the point of each story in relation to the overarching narrative. There are some horrifying scenes, yes, but they felt like they did the same thing thematically. Like I said above, some of the scenes are excessive in their violence. That’s kind of the point of the movie, but I feel like it felt overindulgent. It’s funny because Verge, on a number of occasions, would voice the concern I had about the movie during the movie, almost as if I was having a dialogue with von Trier. It doesn’t make me think the movie is less indulgent, but it makes me appreciate it more.

Report Card

TLDRThe House That Jack Built is as provocative piece about art, its limits, and the ever present violence in the world that seemingly never goes away. It’s excessive to the point of over-indulgence, but in a way that makes von Trier’s point nice and clear. Nihilistic and styled to a T – watch this movie if you can handle some real depravity that’s intended to offend. There’s a lot to think about underneath.
Grade A+

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