Spoilers Ahoy, Matey!
For all the hype that “The House That Jack Built” received, this movie was surprisingly… so-so. I say this as having seen, and enjoyed, a lot of Lars Von Trier films. I won’t get into which movie I liked the most (“Melancholia”) and why (existential, deeply relatable crises mixed with the apocalypse) because that’s not what is revered as the Von Trier universal favourite (“Nyphomaniac: Vol I” and “Vol. 2”).
“The House That Jack Built” was, simply put, not shocking enough for me. Have I been desensitized from all the fucked-up movies I’ve watched, all the violence in the media, or experienced too much of my own torturous life? In any case, I’ve seen better Von Trier. What made “Jack” special was Matthew Dillon’s portrayal as the obsessive-compulsive serial murderer, whose obsessions include cleanliness, justice, and architecture.
Normally playing run-of-the-mill, jovial characters is Dillion’s wheelhouse (see: IMDB). But, as an actor, he’s somewhat robotic and turned that automated behaviour to 11 in this film. Jack goes to great lengths to hide his predilection for punishment (well, and murder) and obsessions. Dillon always has an air of mystery around him, so who’s to say he was far off in this role?
Anyways, in between killings, Jack focuses on building a house of his own (thus the title, “The House That Jack Built”). He builds, reconsiders, then tears down his houses under the guise of the material never being good enough. In between building and tearing down houses, Jack does his “extreme” killings, then hides his victims’ bodies in a cheaply-acquired industrial freezer next to some frozen pizzas he got in the bargain. These are the extremes of the movie.
Cutting the Breasts Off of Simple’s (aka Jacqueline)
No, I didn’t see the reasoning behind this, as he said Simple was the one that he always had in his heart. This is an act (a small bit, at least) of misogyny. Von Trier chose to only showcase female victims, which speaks clearly of his own beliefs.
Murdering the Lady with Mechanical Trouble
Look, TECHNICALLY, she was egging Jack on the whole time, saying he looked like a serial killer. He was trying to put her in the hands of a mechanic, or just abandon her, but she was so annoying, I’m not surprised at his reaction.
Posing as an Insurance Agent to Off a Lonely Widower
He initially poses as a cop, then an insurance agent. This widower is hard up for money so she *warily* lets him in, gets offed, gets her house cleaned and cleaned and CLEANED AGAIN (by a compulsive Jack) before having her body dragged behind his van to his freezer.
Killing Children in Front of their Mother
To be fair, he kills the mother too. But only after having a “family picnic” with the carefully-positioned maimed bodies of the children (okay, maybe that was a bit chilling). All in hunting fashion. Who he took out to the woods with guns and a picnic. I’ve seen worse.
After all of this, during a police showdown outside of his freezer, he gets a flash of inspiration of what material to make his house out of – OF COURSE! THE ANSWER WAS THERE THE WHOLE TIME! THE BODIES! Under the guidance of a fallen angel/interviewer questioning him the whole movie, Jack his builds house from the bodies in his freezer. All his victims, the soulless, freezer-burned flesh masses. Jack escapes the police by going into the sewer, following it until he gets to… the seventh layer of hell?
At this point, I thought I was watching “Little Nicky”. The set design was tacky, his reason for being there was there was unclear, and the fallen angel/ bad guidance councillor had left…. What was going on? The audience must watch something so sub-par after such a sickening display. That’s where the movie completely left me. It was evident this was a completely different film than what I’d thought. I’d gotten it wrong.
“The House That Jack Built” is not meant to sicken or disgust you. Its purpose was to distract you from the fact that he was trying to reach peace in the afterlife. Peace for his compulsion, and forgiveness for it. Jack knew that he was going to go to hell in the afterlife, and he wanted to reach it in his own way, by his own rules. And from his own house.