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Film Review: “The House That Jack Built” (2018) ★★★★★


Back in 2003 it took me a whole week to go through Lars von Trier’s masterpiece called “Dogville.” My memory of that day is still vivid and painfully bright when I realized for the very first time how bad we human beings are. Indeed, there was hope but that hope was killed by one bullet triggered by a genius mind. But that death of hope was a moment of revelation between me, the world of cinema, and human nature that was defined by one filmmaker who is well-known as a barrier-breaker.

“The House that Jack Built” is no different from any other piece you have seen directed by the Danish maestro. This time he touches upon killing, its subtle approach, and how with the right combination of an architectural nature and the skill of an engineer, spiced up with the devilish mind, Matt Dillon’s Jack (whose performance won’t go unnoticed) has a unique approach to killing. He is extremely intelligent, pays attention to details, has no patience whatsoever, enjoys taking time when it comes to killing, and when he finally claims the life of his victim, creates an art in the form of corpses he collects as souvenir.

The opening scene could not have been any more sarcastic than it was. The woman denoted as Lady 1 gets into Jack’s car. Her car was broken and she needed help to get it fixed. Her dialogue, to be honest, was so provocative I don’t know why it took so long for Jack to finally strike. The matter is not why he did not do it, but the fact that with his soulless nature, he could have ended the painful dialogue with the woman who had no judgemental skill. “This was maybe a mistake,” she begins. “What was maybe a mistake?” A puzzled Jack asks in return. “Me getting in this car with you. You might as well be a serial killer. Sorry, but you do kind of look like one,” she continues her accusations not knowing that she was actually right.

When the moment came for her to kind of remain alive and sit in her car, she insisted a stranger, Jack, to take her to a mechanic. And when he, after forcing himself, agrees to do so that she continues her verbal assault on him conjecturing whether he is a killer or not. She then accuses him of being so weak that he cannot be someone who is capable of killing. The man had no choice but to prove her wrong and takes her life away before she even realizes it. That moment itself is an absurd reality when in certain instances people are simply unable to scan the situation and act accordingly. Lady 1 wasn’t Jack’s first victim but the first one for us to begin following his twelve year-old odyssey of why was he unable to separate the art from killing and the killing from art. His obsession with perfection, manipulation, effectiveness and love for the decomposition of the bodies.

If you know Lars von Trier’s style and can handle his way of reflecting reality, then “The House That Jack Built” is the right film for you. Indeed, it’s an extremely violent piece, but in the meantime is a highly intelligent film. Trier, as usual, investigates humanity and human beings that are much worse than Jack himself. The scene where Jack asks Simple to scream as loud as she could is heartbreaking. But it’s also a dark highlight of the lack of empathy or compassion of neighbors that ignore the last plea of a woman that is about to get killed in a vicious way. But when she gets a chance to talk to the police officer telling that her boyfriend has killed sixty people, the police officer asks the two to drink less and take some rest.

In the end, the entire movie offers Jack’s point of view of why he kills, why he loves art, and why he respects the art of killing. While he postulates each murder is an artwork in itself, the viewer is left to stare at him while he exercises his patience and finally choke women to their deaths. It all occurs during a continuous conversation with the unknown Verge – a grotesque mixture of sophistry and psychopathic explanations that’s being referred to when Jack was still a child. The film is rich with a nihilistic tone, but also funny, provocative and beautifully luminous. And it is, again, about people. Why we do what we do. Explanations we provide to justify our heartless actions, the celebration of human ignorance, and lack of empathy has been acknowledged in this film in a way I am sure you will never forget after seeing it.

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