You’ve got to hand it to Lars Von Trier. The iconic Danish filmmaker has been exclusively making the movies he’s wanted to make for three decades or so, a situation that would have to stir up some kind of envy in colleagues who must bicker with producers and studios to make something even halfway genuine. This run of success – artistically more than financially – is even more difficult to comprehend when you consider that Von Trier has often (and, in my mind, wrongly) been labeled as a kind of cinematic masochist, largely because he tends to veer towards deeply unsettling subject matter which regularly involves violence, rape, and heated, awkward confrontations. He’s certainly a cynic but to say that he gets off on the crimes he’s depicted doesn’t square for me.
Still, one has to feel as if The House That Jack Built, his upcoming follow-up to his entrancing, two-part Nymphomaniac, was the movie that Von Trier was meant to direct. As Deadline announced today, Von Trier’s new film will feature Matt Dillon in the role of a serial killer, a figure who was initially, incorrectly identified as Jack the Ripper, by this website as well. Alongside Dillon, Bruno Ganz will be playing Verge, a local man who the killer confides in and speaks about his feelings about his crimes with regularly. How exactly has Von Trier never made a serial killer movie before? One might argue that The Element of Crime is essentially a serial killer movie but that’s not exactly what I think of when I think about that movie. And Von Trier himself seems to be looking beyond the bloody narrative arc toward something far more personal and disquieting in The House That Jack Built.
Here’s how Deadline described the plot to The House That Jack Built:
The House That Jack Built follows the highly intelligent Jack over a span of 12 years and introduces the murders that define Jack’s development as a serial killer. We experience the story from Jack’s point of view, while he postulates each murder is an artwork in itself. As the inevitable police intervention is drawing nearer, he is taking greater and greater risks in his attempt to create the ultimate artwork.
That last word gives away the underlining ideas that Von Trier will likely be toying with in his next film. For a director that’s been working in realm of often ugly, cruel actions, visited upon innocents more times than not, taking stake of one’s career without being labeled a sadist is not exactly easy, but the relationship between Dillon’s killer and Ganz’s character seems to allow for a symbolic confessional for the filmmaker. Of course, that’s just a guess, but you never go wrong thinking that Von Trier is up to more than he’s letting on.