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A Controversial Filmmaker’s Career and Motives Re-Examined

Posted on the 23 August 2011 by Tjatkinson @T_J_atkinson

A Controversial Filmmaker’s Career and Motives Re-Examined

He’s been called a racist. A misogynist. A spiteful man who disrespects the rules of cinema and is casual with showing unsimulated sex and/or graphic violence. In my opinion, he’s one of these things, and thankfully it’s not one of the first two.

Lars von Trier is a filmmaker, who has been making movies since the 80s. Recently he was banned from Cannes Film Festival for making comments in which he states he “sympathises with Hitler.” A couple of years before at the festival, he named himself “the greatest filmmaker in the world.” People have taken offense. First off, I’d like to point out that both those comments were jokes! Admittedly, the Hitler comment was in very poor taste, but the man isn’t exactly known for his comedy. We’ve all said things that we’ve immediately regretted, and although the anger with von Trier is understandable, I think the man was clearly kidding, and did not mean it. As for the comment about being the “greatest filmmaker in the world”: that was a perfectly valid response to a snide journalist who was offending von Trier by insulting him and the film he was promoting (Antichrist).

The controversial attitude von Trier possesses was perhaps examined best in his mockumentary/movie The Five Obstructions, in which he challenges famous filmmaker Jorgen Leth to remake one of his films five times under five different conditions. The film showcases von Trier’s strange and quirky sense of humor. He loves seeing people discomforted; I wouldn’t say it gets him off, but it gives him a strange satisfaction, and I can sort of see where he’s coming from. Seeing people squirm in their seat can be more interesting and thought-provoking then seeing them smirk, without being sadistic.

Pretty much all of his other films are designed to make people squirm and feel discomforted. Whether it’s Emily Watson prostituting herself silently on a bus in Breaking the Waves, the quirky group sex scene in The Idiots, or a baby getting shot in the face in Dogville (I won’t even go into the things that occur in Antichrist), it’s obvious he sees making people uncomfortable as more of a fruitful and intriguing way of entertaining them. Not necessarily that he wants them to be entertained; he wants them to feel weirded out, even disgusted, but not quite sure of why. Take for example the end credits of Dogville and Manderlay; they feature disturbing images of America’s grittier history, but the soundtrack he chooses to play is upbeat, almost happy; this is a direct contrast to make the audience feel angry but unsure; is von Trier trying to say something, or is he just trying to piss me off? Could it be both? In my opinion, it is. He wants the moment of realisation where people finally discover something to be accompanied by a varying emotion, such as discomfort, rage, or sickness.

This really makes him unique to me. Not many directors would do this. Sure, he’s pissing people off by doing it, and that’s a risky choice for a filmmaker, but if you see his sick sense-of-humour in it, and learn how to laugh at yourself, then you’ll see what point he’s trying to get across. It’s not an easy thing to appreciate, but I respect von Trier for having such balls. If he pisses the viewer off, then fine! The people that are easily pissed off by small humorous things that might be in bad taste are the sort of people who should stay away from his films. Thankfully, not all of them practice this annoying trend: Breaking the Waves and Dancer in the Dark are two notably very accessible films from the director’s catalog that the general viewer can watch and enjoy without feeling like von Trier is laughing at them.

You know, he might not be laughing at all. Another point I’d like to make is that he might be trying to teach us something about how easily annoyed we are by things we view as “taboo” or “pretentious,” instead of having an open and considerate mind about it. Von Trier doesn’t consider any of the things he’s done pretentious or taboo, and the increasing amount of sex and violence in his films show that his determination to prove to us his point is intensifying, and that if we want to be able to watch his films, we need to learn to appreciate what he’s saying.


So what do you think? Have I got it all wrong? Is he a bastard that deserves nothing but hatred? Or do you agree with me? Have I missed something out? Leave a comment below, and thanks for ranting reading!

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