‘The House That Jack Built: Director’s Cut’ is More Subversive Than Shocking

The House That Jack Built poster

“Wanting people to listen, you can’t just tap them on the shoulder anymore. You have to hit them with a sledgehammer, and then you’ll notice you’ve got their strict attention.”

-John Doe from “Seven”

Lars Von Trier loves getting our strict attention too, and he does this yet again with “The House That Jack Built” which stars Matt Dillon as a serial killer. On November 28, 2018, IFC Films presented his director’s cut for one night only, and the advertisements boasted of how over 100 people walked out of it at Cannes, and that those who stayed gave it a 10-minute standing ovation. Give IFC some credit as they have seized upon the film’s controversy to great effect. they are showing Von Trier’s cut before releasing an R-rated version in December, and the advertisements make it clear how this version may not be your cup of tea. As for us proud Von Trier veterans, we know exactly what we are in for. Or do we?

What surprised me most about this cut of “The House That Jack Built,” is that it is nowhere as shocking as I was led to believe. In fact, I found the violence at times rather tame especially compared to the scenes of mutilation in “Antichrist.” This is in many ways the result of many people writing about the movie’s most graphic scenes in scorching detail from one article to the next, but we are also living through a tumultuous time where few things can shock us the way they used to. Or perhaps the images our minds generate will always come across as more shocking than what any filmmaker can put on the silver screen.

The violence shown is extremely brutal and very bloody, and what Jack does with the bodies is just as disturbing. But Von Trier keeps us at a distance from the action to where we are fully in Jack’s mindset, treating his soon to be murdered victims as parts of major work of art. Many may cringe at the images Von Trier thrusts upon us with a twisted glee, but in the end, this is only a movie, not real life.

The movie is constructed of five episodes, each of which shows Jack murdering one or more people and it takes place over 12 years in Washington State. Each murder serves to illustrate Jack’s development as a serial killer, one with a serious case of OCD. And throughout we hear him having a conversation with a man named Verge (played by Bruno Ganz) about the murders he has gotten away with, and their talks take many twist and turns as it leads to a grand finale in one of the darkest places on earth.

The first chapter entitled “1st Incident” has Jack picking up a stranded motorist (played by Uma Thurman) who proceeds to taunt him by saying he might be a serial killer, and it serves to set up an ironic tone which will dominate much of the movie. It’s almost impossible to take things seriously as Von Trier is practically begging us to root for Jack to kill her as she cannot shut her mouth and even goes as far to say where he can bury her body.

Another surprising thing about Von Trier’s serial killer film is that it’s actually quite funny. This is clearly the case in the “2nd Incident” in which Jack attempts to con his way into the home of another woman (played by Siobhan Fallon Hogan, whose expressions are priceless) in a pathetic fashion. He first tries to pass himself off as a policeman, but his explanations for why he doesn’t have a badge on him are just hopeless, and yet he does not give up easily. And thanks to his OCD, he is convinced he has left evidence of her murder to where he keeps going in and out of the house several times.

The violence does become even more brutal and nihilistic as “The House That Jack Built” goes on, and men, women, children and animals are never spared from this wrath. I’m not going to bother going into specific descriptions as, again, the gory details have already been written about in various articles, but I will say this movie is not shock for shock’s sake. If you want that, check out the god-awful “Human Centipede 3.”

Von Trier has said in interviews how he was inspired by “the idea that life is evil and soulless” as well as the rise of Donald Trump. Indeed, many live in anxious uncertainty as the former reality television show host never ceases to give us one headache after another, and seeing him and his cronies (several of whom have since been indicted) threatens to make us apathetic to his inescapable crimes. Jack exists in a world too apathetic to realize the horrible things he is doing to others, and he keeps getting away with murder as a result.

A key scene for me was when Jack corners his girlfriend (played by Riley Keough) who slowly realizes who he really is. She screams for help, and Jack does the same in a mocking fashion. When he opens a window and cries to anyone who can hear how “nobody wants to help,” this helps illustrate just how apathetic the world is to the cries of someone in danger. If there are people willing to help someone, none of them are in a close enough vicinity to do so. If they are, they must have their own problems to deal with.

Another key subject involves art and what constitutes the greatest works of it. Neither Jack or Verge can come to a consensus of what makes great art as Verge believes you cannot have any without love as love, like intimacy, is an art unto itself. Jack, however, sees violence as playing a huge part in art and, he sees the murders he has committed as being more creatively stimulating for him than building a house.

David Bowie’s song “Fame” is played many times throughout, and I kept wondering why. Well, let’s look at the first set of lyrics:

“Fame makes a man take things over

Fame lets him loose, hard to swallow

Fame puts you there where things are hollow (fame)

Fame, it’s not your brain, it’s just the flame

That burns your change to keep you insane (fame).”

Is Von Trier attempting to say something about fame? Perhaps. Jack looks to gain infamy by sending photographs of his corpses to the local newspaper under the name of “Mr. Sophistication,” and they do not go unrecognized by the general public. But whether Jack is a serial killer or a singing star, his life is so cut off from others, and his existence will always be a hollow one. Regardless of how things end up for Jack, any fame he could hope to have will not succeed in making his life different.

There is also a moment where Von Trier features clips of his past movies like “Breaking the Waves,” “Dancer in the Dark,” “Antichrist” and “Melancholia” among others as Jack says the following:

“Some people claim that the atrocities we commit in our fiction are those inner desires which we cannot commit in our controlled civilization, so they’re expressed instead through our art. I don’t agree. I believe Heaven and Hell are one and the same. The soul belongs to Heaven and the body to Hell.”

Is Von Trier explaining how he works or apologizing for the crazy things he has brought to the silver screen? Indeed, the realm of art and fiction are places where we can exorcise our darkest thoughts and angriest emotions, and I for one will always be thankful for this. For the Danish filmmaker, it’s a must as he continues to deal with endless phobias and clinical depression, and he always looks to be exorcising some malady he could do without. But with Jack, he is dealing with a character who is a soulless vessel who can no longer see the line between right and wrong or fact and fiction, so maybe the filmmaker is wondering if he truly has gone too far.

How long have we been watching Matt Dillon onscreen? Have we seen him play a role like this before? If so, none quickly comes to mind. He is in just about every frame of this 155-minute movie, and he gives a frighteningly authentic portrayal of a serial killer at their most banal. Dillon makes Jack into the same kind of killer John Doe described himself as in “Seven” in that he is not special and has never been extraordinary, and it’s fascinating to see the actor refusing any opportunity to chew the scenery as many others would. He mines the role for all its pathos and morbid black humor, and it’s one of the best performances I have seen in a movie this year. Having said that, it is highly unlikely will receive an Oscar nomination. Need I say why?

“The House That Jack Built” will not go down as one of my most favorite Von Trier movies as it does drag on for far too long, but it is as fascinating as any he has previously made. There is much more to this cinematic experience than you will see at its gory surface, and you will ponder the many things Von Trier has dared you to explore on a deeper level.

I am glad Von Trier is still making movies as we need filmmakers willing to push the envelope and unsettle us in an effort to get us to see a bigger truth we too often turn away from. Say what you will of him as a person, but I always look forward to what his movies. As much as he may shock you, he also gets you to think. Right now, there are only so many filmmakers who can do that.

Still, I have a feeling the upcoming R-rated version will be far more shocking. The MPAA will most likely censor the movie’s most graphic moments to where our imaginations may have to spell out what we think we saw. In the process of trying to protect American audiences, this archaic body usually, and thoughtlessly, makes a movie more traumatic than anyone intended it to be. I guess I’ll have to wait and see.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

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IFC Debuts First Trailer for Lars Von Trier’s ‘The House That Jack Built’

The House That Jack Built poster

For years Lars Von Trier was considered persona non grata at the Cannes Film Festival, but in 2018 he returned to it with a vengeance. His latest film, “The House That Jack Built,” premiered there recently, and it was reported that a hundred people walked out of the screening in utter disgust. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Von Trier film if it didn’t cause some strong visceral reaction, let alone polarize the first audience to witness it. Now, those of us who were not lucky to go to Cannes this year get to watch the first trailer for “The House That Jack Built,” and it is made clear right away how this film is not at all for the faint of heart.

The trailer opens with Jack (Matt Dillon), an unrepentant serial killer, talking with Verge (Bruno Ganz) who I can only assume is a therapist of some kind. In their conversation, Jack assumes there are rules he must follow, but Verge assures him this is not the case but also says “don’t believe you’re going to tell me something I haven’t heard before.” But after I watched this trailer, I wondered if this would be the case. Many of us have grown up on serial killer movies like “The Silence of the Lambs,” “Seven” and “Copycat,” but this one seems a bit different and far more visceral than any I have seen in the past.

We see Jack pick up a lady played by Uma Thurman whose car has broken down. She holds a broken car jack in her hands, and she puts it down beside Jack once she gets in his car. From there, she talks openly about how she might have made a mistake getting into Jack’s car as he may very well be a serial killer. This reminded me of when a friend of mine shared his experience of watching “Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood” and of a particular female character who was there for the audience to utterly hate. When it looked like Jason was ready to kill her, my friend told me the audience started a chant of “kill the bitch, kill the bitch, kill the bitch,” and it looks like Von Trier is going for the same thing here as Thurman is just asking for Dillon to bash her head in with that car jack.

This trailer is filled with enough snippets to inform you “The House That Jack Built” will be an especially grisly adventure as Jack drags Thurman’s corpse into what looks like his secret lair, tortures another lady played by Riley Keough to where she screams helplessly, and takes aim at a pair of children and their mother. It should be clear before even watching this trailer that Von Trier is a filmmaker who never plays it safe, but those who are unware of this will be made very aware long before the last image.

For myself, there a couple of moments which stand out unforgettably. One is when Jack looks out the window of an apartment and yells how “nobody wants to help,” and the camera zooms out to where it looks like not a human being is in sight. The other comes when Jack says the following:

“Some people claim that the atrocities we commit in our fiction are those inner desires we cannot commit in our controlled civilization, so they are expressed instead through our art. I don’t agree. I believe heaven and hell are one and the same. The soul belongs to heaven and the body to hell.”

The way I see it, everyone has a dark side, and the world of art allows us to exorcise our most shameful desires. With “The House That Jack Built,” Von Trier gives us an individual who cannot separate the line between what is real and what is not, let alone fact and fiction. I have been a big admirer of this filmmaker since being introduced to his work through “Breaking the Waves,” and I cannot wait to see what he has in store for us here.

Please feel free to check out the trailer below at your own risk.

 

There’s Nothing Like a Hot Summer Day in February

Burbank High School TrackOkay, it has been a very busy few weeks between working and training for the 2018 Los Angeles Marathon. After cutting short a run just a couple of miles before I could have made it to the finish line, I started to wonder if I would be better off running the half-marathon in March instead of the full 26.2 miles. But after forcing myself to do more cardio exercises throughout the week, I came back with a vengeance and surprised my fellow runners with my speed as we ran several laps on the Burbank High School track. Coach James wanted us to work on our tempo and run each mile faster than the previous one. Even with my pronounced belly, I held my own against my fellow Pablove Foundation runners who continue to run at a much faster pace than me. It even got to where I arrived back at the park only a few minutes after the last runner had left for the day.

The following week had us enduring our longest run yet – 20 miles. This took us further out into Burbank and Glendale than ever before, and I think we all ran through part of North Hollywood at one point. The longest runs are always the hardest for obvious reasons, but this 20-mile run had us enduring something more vicious: 90-degree weather. The heat was intense to where I couldn’t believe I allowed myself to continue. Seriously, I felt like Uma Thurman as she walked through the desert on her bare feet in “Kill Bill.”

Kill Bill Uma Thurman walking

We all must have gone through every single electrolyte drink available to us on this run, and it reminds me of how I need to bring some money next time so I can go by the nearest 7-Eleven if I ever need to for Gatorade or its equivalent. Also, I have long since run out of suntan lotion to where I wondered if I would get sunburned for the first time in years. Oh well, at least I got a good dose of Vitamin E… Or is it Vitamin D?

The weather in Los Angeles these past weeks has been seriously bipolar. During the day, it reaches temperatures cities should only experience during spring and summertime. At night, thinks get so frigid to where us Angelinos are suddenly reminded why God created sweaters. Running early in the morning allows us Pablove runners to escape the higher temperatures Southern California typically gives us more often than it should. But despite our best efforts, we still got caught in weather we typically live to avoid. While training for the LA Marathon takes place during the coldest months of the year, we Pablove runners still live in a place which doesn’t always have seasons.

When I finished the 20-mile run, I told Coach James how there is nothing like a hot summer day in February. He got a kick out of hearing me say this, and it’s always great to make your friends laugh. This isn’t even Hawaii, and yet it felt like we were suddenly much closer to the equator than we were ever led to believe. Let us pray things will not be overheating like a car engine when we run 26.2 miles.

This past Saturday had us doing the first of two recovery runs. We stayed in Griffith Park ran up and down the insane hill in the back of it twice. The first time we were told to run at an easygoing pace like we are going to on marathon day. The second time, however, we were to run up it at a much faster pace. This was all about improving our overall marathon time, but just staring at the hill was enough to make me say, “Bitch, please!”

In years previous, the coaches advised us not to wear headphones while running. This was done to keep us safe and aware of our surroundings, and it also allowed us to converse with our fellow runners so we would get to know one another better. But since I have spent more time this season running by my lonesome, I said screw it and brought along one of my two 160GB iPods. I have two of them because one is solely dedicated to containing film scores and soundtracks, and that was the one I brought for this run.

Actually, I did bring this same iPod with me the previous week, but I forgot to charge it up. Upon attempting to use it, the screen indicated it needed to be hooked up to a power source. This is code for, “you idiot!”

American Flyers movie poster

Music really did help me run up that merciless hill. One piece which did wonders for me was the theme from “American Flyers,” a movie about bicycle racing which co-starred Kevin Costner. Truth be told, I have not actually seen it all the way through, but I do remember the music from the movie’s trailers, and it is the kind of cheesy movie music which 1980’s movies typically employed more often than not.

During walk breaks, I kept choosing different pieces of music to listen to like Peter Gabriel’s “The Heat” from his soundtrack to “Birdy,” and the music composed and performed by John Carpenter and Alan Howarth for “Big Trouble in Little China” came in handy as well. Towards the last half of the run, John Powell’s adrenaline rush of a score for “The Bourne Ultimatum” helped me get over the top of the hill. I love Powell’s music for the Jason Bourne franchise as his scores make you feel the character’s desperation to stay alive as his antagonists continue to hunt him down whenever he is in their sights.

The Little Engine That Could

I tell you, every time I go up the hill in Griffith Park, I get reminded of the book “The Little Engine That Could.” You know, the one with the young train trying his best to ascend a hill while telling himself over and over, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.” I wonder if anyone considered doing a follow up in which we catch up with that same train when he’s in his forties. Sure, the train may still think he can, but he most likely has put on a lot of weight since his glory days as his metabolism is not what it used to be, and the testosterone his body once thrived upon is now in short supply. I kept going up the hill saying to myself, “I think I can, I think I… Aw shit, I need to walk.” Seriously, we need these hills in our training as they will be part of the marathon course, but it takes no time for me to get winded as I attempt to ascend them. Just looking at it is enough to make me feel like those energy gels I just consumed won’t be nearly enough. Heck, I kept thinking of Roy Scheider’s classic scene in “Jaws” where he tells Robert Shaw, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

Well, I did make it back to our starting point in Griffith Park in one piece, and Coach James told me to wait a few days before doing my maintenance runs so my body could have time to recover from the soreness it was already feeling. After indulging in a Sausage McMuffin with Egg sandwich at McDonald’s, I went back to my apartment and took a super long nap as I didn’t get much sleep the night before.

BREAKFAST

This Saturday’s run will be another recovery run before we run the longest one of all – 23 miles. Till then, I need to keep up with my maintenance runs and stay hydrated. Granted, maybe I’ll have to occasional Jack and Coke, but alkaline water should be at the top of my menu along with Gatorade and Pedialyte.

FUNDRAISING UPDATE: I want to thank all of you for donating to my fundraising efforts for The Pablove Foundation, an organization determined to find a cure for pediatric cancer. So far, I have raised $891 towards my goal of $1,500. Be sure to make a tax-deductible donation sooner rather than later. If all you can donate is $5, I will happily accept that. Heck, if all my Facebook friends donated just $5 each, I would be exceeding my goal by quite a margin.

CLICK HERE TO MAKE A DONATION TO THE PABLOVE FOUNDATION.

 

ALSO, CHECK OUT SOME OF THE GREATEST HITS OF THIS PARTICULAR PABLOVE RUN WHICH GOT ME TO THE FINISH LINE: