Killing as Art: The Civilization That Modernity Built
As the film The House That Jack Built progresses, one gradually starts realizing that the serial killer is not necessarily the protagonist, but many of those people we know closely in history and contemporary politics. Even partly ourselves. Film Review by MUHAMMED NOUSHAD.
Lars Von Trier’s ghastly account of a serial killer, The House That Jack Built is arguably the civilization that the modernity built. Trier’s controversial metaphors, not unlike in his previous works, are shockingly grotesque. Mr. Sophistication, as the protagonist Jack (Matt Dillon) calls himself, is an inhuman, intelligent serial murderer on a psychopath’s spree. But he is more than that; he is an architect. Like all of us. He experiments with different models of houses to live in. Dissatisfied and irritated by the potential ugliness and non-livability of the houses in the making, he demolishes each one of them midway. That is what he does when he doesn’t kill people. His impeccable sophistication in obliterating evidences from every murder scene is frighteningly remarkable. As the film progresses, through a span of 12 years and with random incidents of murders, mostly of women, one gradually starts realizing that this serial killer is not necessarily just one single psychopath called Jack, but many of those people we closely know in history and contemporary politics. Even partly ourselves. And Jack has a philosophy for killing. He calls it art.
To look at life, with a quintessentially Trierian pessimism, the evil lust for power and conquest is probably there in every human psyche. Some exercise it less evidently and violently. Some wage wars – physically, geographically, emotionally – to control, dominate and oppress. A disturbing visual contemplation on the sophistication of murder and the exercise of power often relate to the way we imagined and experienced our political lives, riots, wars, massacres and genocides. The original war footage used in the film makes this philosophical connection easier and accessible to anyone. There the story of a serial killer becomes more than the story of a serial killer.
The second murder episode is the most telling and brilliant of them all. The more sophistication you attain, the guiltier you turn out to be. The more impeccability you accomplish, the more self-doubting and cynical you become. The paradox is irresistible.
The movie is helplessly cynical, unbearably violent and brutally nihilist. Perhaps what Von Trier wanted to tell us was that the art that the human civilization perfected mastery over is the art of killing. From the first Biblical fratricide to the ethnic genocides and world wars, we have attained commendable sophistication in killing people for no peculiar reason. History is the story of those serial killers who presided over the states and power centers, but never treated as psychopaths. But they knew what they had been, like Jack had relentless conflicts of guilt and passion, a lunatic sense of perfection in finishing life around, and the humanity within. The conversation that the protagonist makes with Vergo, from the beginning to the last, through the voice over is revealing of our flaws and motives.