I struggle with Von Trier’s movies – and megalomania – for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the ridiculous Dogme 95 statement that he has gone back on so thoroughly in his later films. (It’s not that I object to Dogme 95 in itself but it’s the brashness of youth I object to, and how hilariously he has abandoned his supposedly sincere principles later in life.)
Von Trier seems to belong to a segment of artists who revel in depression, as if it’s a badge of honour or a badge of their position as Artists or some such thing. And this is a shame, because he is a very talented filmmaker.
Multiple of recent films by Von Trier have focused on mental illness – and there is this theme going back throughout his work. Von Trier and his actors create some of the most incredible depictions of mental illness you’ll ever see on screen. There are few better filmmakers in the world at capturing human beings in the grips of these problems. He might even be peerless in this regard.
The problem is that Von Trier treats mental illness as religion treats the universe – as some big mystery it’s better not to try to understand. Von Trier treats the doctors who try to help people with mental illness as villains, as people deserving of scorn, ridicule, fear and physical violence. This is true earlier in his work – think of The Kingdom – but also recently, such as with Melancholia. And, shockingly, it’s also true of this film.
And that’s unfortunate, because I cannot sympathize with him on this regard. If he’s had bad doctors, or if he refuses to get the help he needs, that’s not my problem.
And, unfortunately, this movie combines Von Trier’s hysteria about psychiatry and psychotherapy – and modern medicine in general – with the really over-used trope of the woman who goes insane after her son dies. (Aren’t we tired of this trope? I am tired of it. Most horror/suspense movies about child loss seem to feature the mother going insane.)
So whatever that might be good about this film – and there are certainly a number of interesting things in it, in addition to the hilariously graphic sex – I have to first overcome my issues with these (I think glaring) problems, and I really don’t think I can do that.
There are some beautiful shots. And some horrific ones (as befitting a horror film). But the film is too episodic for my liking – another recent Von Trier obsession that I don’t love – and the rewards our out-weighed by his usual obsessions and the tired old trope at the heart of the film. Frankly, I was bored long before things get going.
You gotta admire the commitment of the actors but unfortunately it’s all for naught.
A bizarre and thought-provoking failure.