The House That Jack Built is incredibly fun. The hardcore arthouse crowd will guffaw at finding pleasure in Lars von Trier movies instead of taking them super serious. But, there’s something to watching a serial killer take years to get good at his passion. Watching as this middle of the road guy struggles with his OCD and related issues, you start to wonder if anyone is going to get murdered.
Matt Dillon gets something about the psychotic killer mindset that few people understand. These kinds of violent people are creating art. It’s horrific art that requires the death of innocent people. But, the rules and composition that inform Jack’s desire to build his dream house creates something insane. This also leads to the metaphors, heavy handed imagery and the character of Verge that seems to annoy the casual viewers.
That’s their loss. By segmenting Jack’s killer bouts and removing the names of the victims, von Trier does something amazing. Carpenter got a lot of praise for forcing POV shots in 1978, but von Trier wants to make Jack appealing. I can already feel the instant outrage pouring out and that’s to be expected. Hell, it’s why the special release of the film got met with an even split among the audience. There is a growing segment of the viewing populace that can’t handle anything that challenges them.
There’s a moment when Jack kills Simple (Riley Keough) and the cops get involved. When Simple finds a copy and botches her potential rescue, she’s trapped back with Jack. There are shades of the classic Dahmer victim escaping and being turned back over by the Milwaukee PD. It’s in what Jack does next that makes this film so special. Matt Dillon shows that mutilating a victim isn’t enough. You have to make the act into a declarative warning to all that tried to stop him.
So, Jack cuts off one of Simple’s breasts and pins it to the driver side door of the cop car. What does he do with the other one? He turns it into a wallet. Throughout the film, Dillon plays the psycho artist slowly working through his process until his growing dissatisfaction with everything brings him to an unfulfilled finale. Verge is an ethereal figure that hangs over Jack framing his efforts to build a house and do something better with his life.
If you want to be dark about it, Verge is Jack’s truest self. That’s right, The House That Jack Built is a tale about never stopping your dreams. Is Verge real? Probably not, but even murderers need a sounding board to figure out what they’re going to do next. What Verge means to Jack is that he’s the last tether of some sort of conscience. Not in the killing people is bad sort of way. More of a final line of critique for what Jack has done. It’s taken years, but I’ve finally found a Lars von Trier film that I love.