(warning: this post contains massive spoilers for The House That Jack Built)
Lars Von Trier is an artist. I think this is an undeniable fact. But with his latest movie, he has created something more akin to anti-art. A giant middle finger to art, specially movies in the horror/thriller/suspense genres.
The titular Jack thinks real highly of himself. He’s an artist, a poet, he’s a superior Man with a capital M, he’s articulate, he’s methodical, he’s special. But he really isn’t. Any of those things.
He is, as Virgil (who serves as the voice of logic and reason) says, just another psychopath. He claims to have killed more than 60 people, but all the “incidents” he recounts to Virgil are of him killing women. Not just women: Supernaturally stupid and naive women. Virgil himself acknowledges this. How is it possible that Jack only remembers the dumbest people (more specifically, dumbest women) he’d killed? Jack waves this off, says that he’s recounting some events are random. But the key message I think Von Trier is trying to convey here is that evil is not always deep, profound, meaningful.
Lots of times, evil is completely devoid of meaning, is stupid.
The protagonist is called Jack, a completely generic name, and has no given last name in the movie. On top of that, in the first incident, the woman talks a lot about her car jack, which had broken down and it had no use except as a blunt weapon, for murder. So we see that this Jack, this protagonist, is nothing special. He may think he is, but he’s not. He’s generic, replaceable. Virgil himself says that in their first dialogue, when Jack asks if he can speak along the way, and Virgil warns Jack not to think that he’ll say anything that Virgil hasn’t already heard.
Jack also represents the alt-right incel, which is obvious in his little speech about how being born a man makes you automatically guilty (guilty of what?) and that women are automatically victims, from birth. All he needed to make the metaphor more obvious was a Fedora.
The epilogue, showing Jack and Virgil going down into hell has a handheld camera moment (resembling found footage movies like Paranormal Activity), and a beautiful, painting-like scene of the two protagonists crossing the river Styx (which, in my opinion, represents more visually lush art house horror movies like The Witch and It Follows).
And what links these movies together is that they try to convey the horrors they depict as something meaningful, and the director’s intent, in my opinion, is to show evil in its purest, dumbest form.
Virgil shows Jack the lowest circle of Hell but remarks that Jack’s place is actually a couple of circles above that (implying that Jack wasn’t special or evil enough to be on the lowest circle) is the perfect wrap up to the movie. On the other side of the entrance to the lowest circle (which is basically a bottomless pit), there’s a door up to the Heavens, but no bridge. Jack asks Virgil if it’s possible to climb the walls to the other side of the pit, to get to Heaven. Virgil, with a perfect smirk on his face, says that few have attempted, but none was successful. Of course this fuels Jack, the great, the artist. To him, it’s easy. So he does it. And, of course, falls into the bottomless pit of Hell. Then the credits roll, playing “Hit The Road, Jack,” and it’s all perfect.
The House That Jack Built is a great movie, a great exploitation movie. Lars Von Trier comments on the state of genre movies today with a great genre movie, with a lot of gruesome scenes to quench most of gore hounds. It’s a beautiful piece of exploitation cinema, an Ilsa, She Wolf Of The SS of modern times.
Pedro Proença is a composer of contemporary classical music, a bass player and works at a hospital (but try not to remind him of this last one). His first book is BENJAMIN, part of the 2015-16 New Bizarro Author Series from Eraserhead Press. He has been published by Bizarro Pulp Press, Fireside Press and Dynatox Ministries, as well as having stories appearing in Bizarro Central and Flash Forge. He lives in Rio de Janeiro with his family and their cats.