Written by: Victoria Alexander
Lars von Trier has carved out his own creative path with fearless energy. I am a great admirer of all his films. Here, von Trier transforms Matt Dillon into a sensation.
At the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, finally after seven years of banishment by the Festival, Lars von Trier presented his latest film, THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT. According to IndieWire: “The movie premiered out of competition on May 14 and immediately courted controversy for scenes depicting graphic violence against women, children, and animals. The premiere included dozens of walkouts and reviews were fiercely divided, with some critics praising von Trier’s vision and others slamming it as repulsive.”
After Netflix began airing the true crime documentary, CONVERSATIONS WITH A KILLER: THE TED BUNDY TAPES, social media was filled with glamorized remarks about the notorious serial killer. It got so bad that Netflix had to beg Ted Bundy viewers to stop calling the serial killer ‘hot’ and remind them he’s a convicted killer.
I’ve read a great deal about serial killers: not limited to The Hillside Stranglers, The Yorkshire Ripper, and Richard “The Iceman” Kuklinski. I have a section in my library dedicated to Jack The Ripper. Long ago I read the now yellowed paperback Ted Bundy: Conversations with a Killer” by Stephen G. Michaud and Hugh Aynesworth, that the Netflix 4-part series is based on.
The hottest ticket at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, and best liked by attendees I spoke to, was the film about Ted Bundy: EXTREMELY WICKED, SHOCKINGLY EVIL AND VILE by filmmaker Joe Berlinger and starring Zac Efron as Bundy.
When arrested, Bundy admitted to killing at least 30 women but strongly alluded to a three-digit number as the true tally.
What is strangely overlooked in the Ted Bundy odyssey is that, even after 2 escapes and a killing rampage across the U.S. from Washington state, Utah and Colorado and who knows where else, Bundy chose to go to Florida for his last killings knowing full well that Florida had the death penalty.
It has been stated that there are at least 50 serial killers operating in the U.S. Breaking news is that the most prolific serial killer in American history, admitting to 90 murders, is Samuel Little. Luckily, Little has now provided drawings of some of his victims. The FBI has released 16 portraits Little drew of his victims. Well, Little is 78 years old and according to a death row inmate, it’s tough being old in prison. So, in November 2018, Little began making confessions in exchange for a transfer out of the Los Angeles County prison in which he was being held.
Over the past 30 years, there have been hundreds of mysterious disappearances and deaths reported from I-80, in particular the portions that pass through Utah, Northern Nevada and parts of Northern California, which have an abnormally high concentration of such cases.
Considering all of the above, why did the assumed sophisticated audience at Cannes react so demonstrably to THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT? Was von Trier just one year too early?
Jack (Matt Dillon) is describing just 5 incidents of a 12-year killing spree to Verge (voiced by Bruno Ganz). You assume Jack has been caught and is confessing some of his crimes. Jack has OCD, which severely impairs his killing ritual, always fearing he has left blood or his DNA around his killing sites. Instead of washing his hands endlessly or checking if he locked the front door twenty times or stepped on a crack, Jack keeps returning to make sure he left the place spotless.
Yes, I will admit that the crimes are really horrific and very disturbing, but von Trier has not made up anything. It is well-known that some serial killers have staged their victims and taken photographs and made recordings and videos. Nothing in THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT has been sprung from the mind of the writer-director. It has all happened and in a much more horrific and cruel way.
As a benefit to my readers, SwordandScale.com listed “5 States You’re Most Likely to Encounter a Serial Killer.” They are Washington state, California, Florida, Nevada and listed as Number 1: Alaska.
von Trier intercuts Jack’s relating of these “incidents” with cultural artifacts of mankind’s cruelty. And this, I might suggest, is clearly what von Trier wants to say. The potential for cruelty in the extreme is a survival product of our first primal brain, the Reptilian Brain.
When we are in danger and must respond quickly, as an act of self-preservation, the reptilian structure is aroused, preparing us for action by initiating the release of chemicals throughout the body.
von Trier has shown that an artist can be punished with banishment and creative ostracism if he says something considered offensive. In 2011, von Trier sacrificed his right to have an opinion during a press conference when he began talking about – a truly verboten subject – Adolf Hitler.
With Verge, Jack explains himself in terms of historical markers of mass cruelty. He also attempts to show how he tries to “blend in” with ordinary people by practicing making faces of horror, sadness, joy, grief and how to deliver a warm smile. He knows full well that he is an outsider.
Of special brilliance is von Trier using a clip from the 1959 documentary “Off the Record,” of the Canadian pianist Glenn Gould playing Bach.
Who is Verge and where does he take Jack? This is best left for the viewer to discover. We do finally see the house that Jack built and the journey he takes by way of the house.
Matt Dillon is sensational and electrifying. Of all his victims, Riley Keough as Simple is presented as the most horrific of Jack’s crimes.
THE HOUSE THAT JACKBUILT needs to be seen in the context of serial killers and evil people’s justification for their acts.
“You see, in this world, there is one awful thing, and that is that everyone has his reasons.”
There are two versions of THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT. The Europe and Canada version is the director’s cut. The U.S. market has a version with a missing 4 minutes.