20th Dec2018

‘The House That Jack Built’ Review – Second Opinion

by Jak-Luke Sharp

Stars: Matt Dillon, Bruno Ganz, Uma Thurman, Siobhan Fallon Hogan, Sofie Gråbøl, Riley Keough, Jeremy Davies | Written and Directed by Lars von Trier


The House That Jack Built is the latest, and reportedly final, cinematic effort from the meretricious and petulant director Lars von Trier. A visionary master of bold and repellent art, with a twisted irony of benevolent nature formulated in the most offensive and auspicious manner possible, Von Trier excels in the morally artificial and frugal seduction. His most recent effort is a masterstroke of meta and self-referential testy ravenous appalling nature, possibly so significant in fact, in a darkly evocative expose of mankind, it may just be his magnum opus.

Matt Dillon stars in the titular role of Jack. A haunting portrayal of monstrous bigotry and murderous gluttony. Dillon, an often overlooked actor with tremendous ability and filmography to prove it, provokes a grand sense of audacious provocateur in vile sensibility and outlandish intoxication of horror. Undeniably giving it his all. Dillon creates a nuanced balance of sheer terror and scorned egotistical endurance that populates a vastly intoxicating and nightmarish engaging character. Who lives, breathes and sleeps in chaotic minatory. The character is layered in a beautifully sinister manner and driven by a compelling narrative, with Dillion excelling in his icy opaque delivery and tremendously zealous screen presence. Implemented via Von Trier’s usage of narrative structure and edit from Jacob Secher Schulsinger and Molly Malene Stensgaard utilising voiceover reminiscent to that of Von Trier’s previous cinematic exploits of NYMPH()MANIAC pt I & II, delivered by Charlotte Gainsbourg and here by an unknown at first narrative that is slowly revealed between Dillion’s Jack and Bruno Ganz’ Verge, which poetically begins in the void of darkness but ends in a blinding light.

Thus, allowing Dillon to really shine brightly in his moments utilised on screen with an impactful intensity and vague mysticism that ranges from a true nightmarish nihilistic pernicious to spells of glib comedic turbulence. It’s this thematic balance of genre and a fearlessly daring screenplay from writers Jenle Hallund and Lars von Trier that stings its audience with a gaping wound, psychologically repairing it in the same breath with dazzling magic of compelling narcissism, advertently using a cohesive aid of subtle comedy as a tonic to the intoxicating pompous restlessness of events, both depicted and convicted in the name of terror.

It is this metaphorical approach that is prominent throughout the filmography of Von Trier but hits a deeply impassioned and exclusively poignant density in The House That Jack Built. An allegory of sorts towards Trier’s controversial yet exemplary forty years as the master of argent provocateur. A title of such for his usage of ardent and staunch artistic flair with an ironic deeply flawed bravado of inner belief and acceptance that formulates breathtaking threads in the craftsmanship of on-screen trauma. The tale of Jack is constructed in a narrative of five incidents told to unknown and off-screen character Verge, of which are murders and heinous violent crimes depicted against Women. A clear self-referential allegory for Trier’s filmography of centring most, if not all his narratives with leading women and the torture of his actresses in pushing them to a point of destructive oblivion in the likes of Nicole Kidman in Dogville, Bjork in Dancer In the Dark, Charlotte Gainsbourg in both Antichrist and NYMPH()MANIAC, as well as Kristen Dunst in Melancholia. Pushing the boundaries and scope of depiction as well as emotional torment of the roles performed. Tortuous debauchery that followed and the controversial epitome that was and still is branded on Trier’s work and body.

It would seem that The House That Jack Built is not only a highly provactive work of art but a possible confession of sorts with a dawning realisation of the trauma of self-acceptance and pain that can’t be fixed, only subdued and repressed for a prolonged amount of time and projected into the prism and work of Art. Questioning the world and its complexities of human and worldly nature and Von Trier himself, both in terms of subtextually analysing the work in an inner contextual manner and the conceptual conviction of the thematic tendencies of his colossally dark, yet innovative pictures. Looking for an answer to the question or the difference of wanting to be both or neither in “Are you the highlighted hero of an architect in truly transcending prosperous art, or a forgotten engineer who brings the depth one has to bring forth to allow such art to formulate?” While the answer never truly clear and with his latest reportedly his last it’s clear that Lard Von Trier is finished with the latter and ready to bathe in the former.

The House That Jack Built is on limited release across the UK now.


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