Filmmaker Lars Von Trier has yet again caught the attention of critics and audience, with his latest film. Reportedly, hundreds of people walked out of the screening of “The House That Jack Built” at Cannes, due to its controversial, violent and sadistic content. The film which traces the life of a serial killer spanning over decades was called obscene, vomitive, misogynist, vile and torture porn. The unanimous verdict on social media is that Trier has gone too far this time.
Just left Lars Von Trier's The House that Jack Built.— The Oscar Predictor (@OscarPredictor) May 14, 2018
Gross. Pretentious. Vomitive. Torturous. Pathetic. #Cannes2018
I’ve never seen anything like this at a film festival. More than 100 people have walked out of Lars von Trier’s ‘The House That Jack Built,’ which depicts the mutilation of women and children. “It’s disgusting,” one woman said on her way out. #Cannes2018 pic.twitter.com/GsBGCoyHEG— Ramin Setoodeh (@RaminSetoodeh) May 14, 2018
Time and again artists tinkle with the line between acceptable and unacceptable in their work. It is a challenge for them to walk this line and yet get people to appreciate their work. But where does art cross the line and become obnoxious and self-consumed, bordering on being a hate crime towards the humanity?
Mutilation, Shooting of Children and use of concentration camp footage
As per an article in the Guardian, Trier’s latest “artwork” contains scenes where a female character has her breasts, sliced off, with flashbacks of a boy removing a duckling’s leg with pliers. The film also contains scenes of two children being shot in the head with a rifle. But the most astounding of all, Trier shows the temerity to use actual footage from the concentration camps. While his admirers argue that all the mutilation and shooting is fake and crafted, it is the use of this archived footage which makes Trier’s work irredeemable.
Trier is not new to controversy, as many on Twitter pointed out.
FILM TWITTER: Lars von Trier has gone too far with his latest.— Black-Ass Fran Lebowitz (@unclecrizzle) May 15, 2018
ME: What about that one where Nicole Kidman was the town sex slave?
ME: Or that one where Charlotte Gainesbourg cut her clit off?
ME: Or his last two, which was just wall-to-wall fucking?
It is not a new thing for movie makers to pass of absurd plot points and depiction of violence as art. Be it Trier’s 2009 film Antichrist starring Willem Dafoe or previous year’s Mother! by Darren Aronofsky, starring Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem and Michelle Pfeiffer, seems like disturbing the psyche of the audience is also a skill. It is questionable how these actors who advocate women's rights are able to work in films so grotesque and vile. How easy it has become to convince people that torture and repulsive content is akin to revolutionary creativity.
There is a disturbingly large section of the audience which likes to watch films which depict torture and violence. Most of the time it is the women who are at the receiving end of brutality in these films.
Violent rapes, mutilation, extreme physical and mental torture…how can anyone see art in such things? It is downright sadistic. However, it was not unless Trier started showing brutality against children and young animals that people began feeling uncomfortable.
What does this say about our collective threshold for consumption of gruesomeness? Have we become so immune to the depiction of violence on-screen against women? So much so that it does not make our stomach churn anymore? Trier has been pushing the boundaries of unpalatable cinematic experience for some time now, yet he manages to score a screening at a prime film festival like Cannes.
We need to have clearer directives for filmmakers and artists as to what they can pass off as art and what they cannot.
Blood-soaked gang rapes, chopping off women’s private parts, violence of any kind against children should be off-limits. Period. Such scenes are birthed and consumed from a twisted mindset. The actors, the viewers and the producers all collectively hold the reins over such insolent projects. They must take a stand against such deplorable content. So if Trier is able to make a film which glorifies sexual violence and cruelty, then all these people are as culpable as he is.
No matter how large or philosophical a message it should not come at the cost of objectification and brutalisation of women, in the name of shock value. It is a shame that such a film received a standing ovation at Cannes. But as this tweet points out, some people will clap for anything.
Picture Credit : Twitter
Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section. The views expressed are author’s own.