There aren’t a lot of figures in filmmaking like Lars von Trier, a man whose persona is as large as his pictures and sometimes twice as controversial. His films come packed to the brim with expectations and pre-conceived notions, nearly all of which veer towards an understanding that a Lars von Trier film isn’t to be enjoyed, it is to be experienced, uneasy parts and all.
It is von Trier’s controversial flair that makes him so fascinating, how he brazenly tackles uncomfortable subjects in uncomfortable ways sparing no emotion, padding no expression of truth as he sees it, and allowing nothing to act as a filter between his messages and the masses. This, of course, has a polarizing effect on audiences, who tend to either revere or revile the man, but whichever side of that line you stand on, what is not up for debate is von Trier’s standing as one of the purest, least-compromising and most-engaging filmmakers of the modern era, a man whose work takes more than one viewing to fully appreciate, and in fact requires deconstruction to get at its impetus, the message or meaning in the center of its heart.
Fortunately, film lovers have guys like Lewis Bond at Channel Criswell for stuff like that, and his latest erudite essay, which is a deconstruction of the career of Lars von Trier, is the perfect primer for anyone interested in the director, whether you’ve seen the majority of his films or not.
The first time I saw BREAKING THE WAVES – on a date; terrible idea and a story for another time – I felt bad afterwards, like I had seen something I shouldn’t, something too intimate or too revealing or too base, something like that. But I also felt clued in. I felt made aware of something that at the time I couldn’t define and now I think is best described as “the way of the world,” or rather, the ways of the individual worlds within each of us, the variety of ways we experience and navigate the greater world in relation to ourselves, flaws, perversions and all. Lars von Trier showed me the thin curtain that exists between who we are and who we are pretending to be, and in each of his films, I think, he shreds this curtain a little more, which is why he’s considered so controversial and polarizing. People don’t like to see their basest desires manifested, nor do they like to see their ugliest sides reflected back at them. These are things to be hidden, and Lars von Trier is a seeker out to expose them all. Even if you don’t like to look, you can’t look away. Even if you don’t care for it, you respect it. That’s what makes Lars von Trier more than a filmmaker. It’s what makes him an artist.