The Twisted Inspiration Behind Lars Von Trier’s Sadistic Films And His Return to Cannes

May 17, 2018

|Ariel Rodriguez
von trier sadistic films

Is he simply glorifying murder or actually revealing humanity's innermost desires?

The definition of a psychopath or a person with anti-social personality disorder is the lack of a conscience (no remorse) and the inability to feel empathy for the suffering of others. And it seems like controversial Dutch filmmaker Lars von Trier, famous for his violent and pessimistic films, forgot that people who sit down to watch his movies actually feel something when they watch others suffer, especially when it comes to scenes where women and children are being abused. His new movie The House That Jack Built (2018) is getting plenty of criticism after more than 100 people walked out of a screening at Cannes Film Festival. Some of the viewers called the film “vomitive,” “intolerable,” and even “misogynistic.”





Is Von Trier glorifying murder?

The thriller follows the life of a serial killer, played by Matt Dillon, who tortures and murders people in the most graphic and grotesque way. In the trailer, there's a brutal scene where he knocks out Uma Thurman with an iron tool, another one where he points at a child with a gun, and yet another one where he drags a lifeless body down the road. It seems like Von Trier, who wrote the screenplay, wanted to make viewers think about our darkest desires. This is an actual quote from the movie's protagonist:


Some people claim that the atrocities we commit in our fiction are those inner desires, which we cannot commit in our controlled civilization, so they are expressed instead through our art… I don’t agree, I believe that heaven and hell are one and the same. The soul belongs to heaven and the body to hell.


The idea that torturing and killing people is an inner desire that all humans have is not an opinion that the audience at Cannes shares with the protagonist. Many who watched –or tried to watch– Von Trier's bloody film left the showing and expressed tough critiques about the disgust the film caused in them. Here are some of their comments:









It's not his first scandal, though

This isn’t the first time Von Trier has caused controversy at Cannes. As a matter of fact, the director had been previously banned from the festival after admitting that he sympathized with the Nazis at the premiere of his movie Melancholia (2011): “What can I say? I understand Hitler. He did some wrong things, absolutely, but I can see him sitting there in his bunker at the end ... I sympathize with him, yes, a little bit.” This comment, of course, resulted in the festival's decision to ban him from future events. The festival's organizers called his comments “unacceptable, intolerable, and contrary to the ideals of humanity and generosity that preside over the very existence of the festival.” However, just before Cannes' 2018 edition, they decided to lift the ban and allow him to screen The House That Jack Built (2018).


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Cannes under fire: accusations of sexual assault

Seven years after his ban, many people are confused as to why Von Trier is returning to Cannes now. And it really is the worst timing ever, not only to showcase a brutal film after years of mass murders, but also because Von Trier is under accusation of having sexually harassed Björk on the set of the film Dancer in the Dark (2000). Although he has denied all allegations, movements like #MeToo and Time’s Up are criticizing the festival for favoring the director and promoting men's privilege.


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Other Films

While Von Trier really crossed the line with The House That Jack Built (2018), there are other films that speak of the director’s obsession with violence, murder, and brutality. Here are some of them:



Antichrist (2009)

In this film, a married couple grieving their son’s death decides to stay at a cabin in the woods in the hopes that it'll help them heal from their tragic loss. The film contains multiple graphic and violent sex scenes with references to birth, nature, and the devil. Perhaps the worst one is when the woman cuts off her clitoris.




Idiots (1998)

Called by some “the worst movie ever,” this film shows various Jackass-like stunts, where the characters are encouraged to act like idiots by doing –sorry to be redundant– idiotic stuff.




Nymphomaniac (2014)

This film combines sexual desire, religious morals, and absolute perversion. The story follows the life of a self-diagnosed nymphomaniac named Joe, exploring the darkest side of human nature, sadomasochism, and even rape. There are many violent and graphic scenes, including forced penetration and oral sex. The film was divided in two parts.




Breaking the Waves (1996)

What is marriage? Von Trier examines the concept in this film, where a woman who had previously found sexual happiness with her husband decides to find a new partner who can satisfy her, after her husband suffers an accident and becomes paralyzed. He agrees, under the condition that she'll tell him all about her encounters. A movie that contrasts religion, family, and marriage.




Dancer in the Dark (2000)

A musical drama with a shocking scene of suspense and a tragic ending as a woman is to be hanged while singing. This is the movie where Björk was allegedly verbally and sexually abused by the director, and it was also her debut performance as an actress.



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I really don't how Von Trier can find inspiration in humanity's darkest and most vulnerable moments and make films about it. I would say he crossed the line when he depicted the murder of children and the abuse of women. The director is probably desensitized to violent and gruesome scenes, and I also believe that he lacks sensitivity to transmit a message to the audience. Whether his newest film will hit theaters or not is not as important as whether people will like it or not.


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Ariel Rodriguez

Ariel Rodriguez


Creative Writer
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