Outrage at a new Lars von Trier movie is practically a Cannes Film Festival tradition at this point. This year’s premiere was The House That Jack Built, starring Matt Dillon as a serial killer. More than a hundred people reportedly walked out of the premiere, particularly after a scene depicting two children getting shot in the head by a rifle. So have none of them heard of Lars von Trier before? Or is The House That Jack Built really so horrific?
Tweets from critics attending The House That Jack Built premiere describe a “vile,” “gross,” “torturous,” “pathetic,” “vomitive” movie, loaded with mutilation, especially of women and children.
Some of the more shocking scenes described in early reviews include Jack cutting off his girlfriend’s breasts and conducting taxidermy on a dead boy, with plenty more horrors hinted at in the movie’s first trailer.
The House That Jack Built is hardly the first Cannes premiere to prompt walkouts. Gaspar No é’s shocking (but now highly regarded) Irreversible ended its premiere with 250 fewer audience members than at its start. Several other movies now regarded as classics—including Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me and cult fave Southland Tales—were met with boos and walkouts by Cannes audiences. The House That Jack Built isn’t even the first von Trier movie to be met with disgust: 2009’s Antichrist was jeered throughout its runtime.
The critics and attendees responding to The House That Jack Built exhibited many of the typical scandalized responses to movies, including haughty high dudgeon (“he mutilates children… we are all there in formal dress expected to watch it?”), assignations of moral culpability, declarations that some depictions of violence become “ not art,” and projection against a theoretical “filmbro” dumb enough to like it.
But while Cannes is often a solid indication of a movie worth seeing, there’s always the possibility The House That Jack Built is both shocking and bad, with many critics noting von Trier’s characteristic brutality towards women crosses the line from commentary on misogyny and into a flat, misogynistic depiction. Von Trier has always been a divisive filmmaker, but we’ll have to wait for The House That Jack Built’s Nov. 29 wide release to determine for ourselves whether his latest is empty provocation, or a thought-provoking exploration of masochism and sadism like Antichrist or Dogville.
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