If you’re anything like me, you’d have thought that The House That Jack Built was Lars Von Trier’s unofficial sequel to the charming ’96 Coppola-directed Robin Williams vehicle, Jack, about a boy that ages four times the normal rate and enters fifth grade in the body of a forty-year-old man. Sadly, it seems it isn’t.
Or isn’t it? Here is the trailer-
The Jack that we meet in the trailer is zany; hamming faces into the camera like a far-too sane Joaquin Phoenix, blurring the lines of performance and performer. Matt Dillon’s square, the lined face comes alive in Von Trier’s lens, and the accompanying musical score (David Bowie’s “Fame”, in all its 70s grandeur) and stock nature footage give us the impression we’re watching Wes Anderson Presents Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. We’re treated to brief glimpses of horrifying violence, which are sure to play out all-too viscerally on the screen once we’ve paid admission, though the madcap music zips and zooms onward through them like a Merry Melodies fever dream. Here young Jack slices the foot off a duck, here he shoots, here he stabs, here he smiles at the miracle of a benevolent God sending rain to wash his telltale trail of blood away. But all the while he speaks of fiction, of the acts he’s committed without punishment, and Uma Thurman (my, how we’ve missed her!) even feeds him the knowing wink that we’re watching a serial killer.
It’s almost too zany to be real, or too cinematic to be believable. Will we be treated to a waking nightmare; another classic retelling of Patrick Bateman’s realization that “This is Not an Exit”? Perhaps, but that’s hardly the reason we take the ride. Film as escapism is old hat. What we ask for now, and what Von Trier excels at, is a black mirror to our own hideousness. Our own appetite for blood and a grotesque reality without consequence. In this era, in the Rise of the Rat King, what could be so divine?
It’s as though we, as Jack, are still childlike in our worship of violence and controversy. That we see the establishment as something to be feared or raged against. That we fantasize in arterial red and molded black as we stare from our beige, stucco homes into the rapidly darkening clouds of our immediate future. Our imagination, with our advanced knowledge in the empire of the 24-hour news cycle, is stunted by glimpses of our own mortality. What we need is a protagonist with no regard for it, who’ll give us a nod and smile as he demonstrates its impermanence.
And we get that in Jack. And Lars Von Trier, himself.
The House that Jack Built is produced by Zentropa Films, written and directed by Lars Von Trier. It stars Matt Dillon, Uma Thurman, Bruno Ganz, Riley Keough, and Jeremy Davies. It premiered at the Cannes Film Festival on May 14th, 2018.