The Hell That Lars von Trier Built

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Lars von Trier’s highly anticipated and already hotly debated new film, The House That Jack Built, begins with a black screen and a disembodied male voice saying, “Can I ask you something?” An older man, equally invisible, replies, “I can’t promise I’ll answer.” As we eavesdrop on this cryptic conversation, the darkness before our eyes seems to somehow grow deeper; we have no choice but to focus solely on these unknown voices. Slowly, von Trier draws in the viewer and makes him weary, calling back to the opening of his 1991 film Europa, in which Max von Sydow’s velvety tones take the viewer into a trance “still deeper into Europa,” while the repetitive rhythm of railroad tracks flashes on screen. The effect in both of these sequences is unmistakably hypnotic.

Manuela Lazicringer, essay