The House that Jack Built
In The House that Jack Built, Jack is a serial killer who definitely speaks too much. Showing and staging crime is probably the oldest task of cinema, but speaking of it, or even trying to explain it, is more than a redundant job for cinema. One should not forget that giving an ideology to violence (even if only through sophistry) always equals giving some reason to any ideology to legitimate violence… Therefore, the open-minded critical side of cynicism turns into banal hooliganism. Moreover, even if Lars von Trier’s noble intention of exploring human perversity would be highly worthy of being pursued (as it was for his last films), here we face a simple pastiche of superficial references, through which inconclusive quasi-ideas on art, architecture and the war, or amateurish history and cheap psychology are cobbled together.
I’ll go directly to what seems to be the fundamental issue of the film. Radical evil is nothing more than consciously doing evil while knowing perfectly well that it is evil. It would be interesting to focus on this peculiar ability of human beings, but the reflections that accompany the main character’s knowledge of his evil expresses only stupidity and mediocrity. Now, stupidity and mediocrity actually contaminate Lars von Trier’s entire essayistic project, and not only Jack’s perspective – even if the graphic and digital manipulations of the image in the digressions from the story deserve some attention on a purely formal level.
It is a pity that the talent that Lars von Trier has showed in almost all of his filmic projects is so badly ruined in what I can only call a piece of entertainment for dumb intellectuals. This is also a pity because von Trier has involved an excellent – and probably meta-cinematically - symbolic casting, with superb acting performances by Matt Dillon and Bruno Ganz, and also the poor Glenn Gould, so sadly reduced to his caricatural pop profile. Some relief comes only at the end of the film, when The House that Jack Built courageously develops into a more honest B-movie, as far as it appropriates Dante’s Divina Comedia: here we cannot but laugh, and laughter is always the best medicine.
Text: Giuseppe Di Salvatore
First published: January 06, 2019