The House That Jack Built was destined for controversy. It is, after all, a Lars Von Trier movie, and the director has made his mark with controversial films. However, some audiences felt that the director went too far with this horror movie that depicts the evolution of a prolific serial killer.
The House That Jack Built stars Matt Dillon as Jack, a serial killer describing the five most pivotal killings of his life. Both psychopathic and obsessive-compulsive, viewers watch as he develops his talent for brutal and heartless killing, evading all consequence through a number of seemingly lucky breaks that he interprets as some sort of divine message. Each killing is graphic and realistically-portrayed. However, this alone is not the only reason for the controversy surrounding the film. Audiences familiar with Lars Von Trier's work likely knew they were going to see some graphic violence when they sat down to watch a movie about a serial killer. How could they forget the genital mutilation in Antichrist? Nevertheless, for some, what they got was still more than they could handle.
When The House That Jack Built premiered at Cannes in 2018, it prompted walk-outs and outrage, such as a review in The Playlist that called it "repulsive, toxic trash". This controversy stems from certain moments in the film that range from irksome misogyny to horrid child taxidermy. What's more, Jack sympathizes with Nazi architect Albert Speer while the film shows documentary footage of Speer laughing with Adolf Hitler, which some viewers have interpreted as Von Trier's own views on Nazism. Overall, the real controversy surrounding The House That Jack Built comes from what Lars Von Trier seems to be saying with the film.
Why The House That Jack Built Is MORE Controversial
In a film packed with controversial imagery and ideas, the theme that seems to offend the most is how women are portrayed in The House That Jack Built. At one point, Jack forces a mother to feed pie to her two dead children who he has just shot in front of her. At another point, he cuts a woman's breasts off with a knife, leaving one like a parking ticket on the windshield of a nearby police officer's car and fashioning the other one into a money purse. Perhaps most controversial of all, however, is Jack's psychological treatment of women, calling one he seems to be in a relationship with "Simple", callously stating that "it's always the man's fault" and asking why the woman is "always the victim". Each time Jack kills, it involves a woman who comes across to him as less-than-intelligent, leaving viewers to wonder this reflects Lars Von Trier's own view of women.
Lars Von Trier's movies have always been controversial, from the self-hatred scene in Melancholia to the vivid depictions of real sex in Nymphomaniac. Nevertheless, in The House That Jack Built, Von Trier seems to be working hard to offend everyone he can, from women to law enforcement to animal rights activists. It feels like he's trolling his audience, seeing what kind of a rise he can get out of people. In some way, it could be taken as him commenting on his own provocative career. Whatever the case may be, a lot of the controversy The House That Jack Built has stirred up is attached to Lars Von Trier himself rather than taking direct offense with the movie, as it is undoubtedly within the horror genre—for good reason.
Interestingly, at one point in the film, during one of Jack and Verge's philosophical conversations in between killings, they bring up the old debate about whether or not art should be separated from its creator. It's a poignant observation, as many film critics have often equated—and justified—Von Trier's films with the director's personal internal struggles with depression and self-loathing. However, some of his personal comments have also been controversial. In 2011, Von Trier was banned from the Cannes festival after he made a statement with an interviewer about how he sympathized with Hitler and likened himself to a Nazi. Still, the ban only lasted for seven years, leaving viewers at Cannes curious as to why The House That Jack Built was allowed to premiere at the event. Those comments aside, The House That Jack Built has turned out to be Lars von Trier's most controversial film.