I have never been a friend of Lars von Trier.
Before I witnessed any of his films, I had heard of his swagger. His force of self-congratulation has long whetted my mouth with a sour sensation I care not to endure. When at last I began to watch some of his films, I found that this sour sensation enveloped my taste buds entire, and momentarily eviscerated any hope of a non-sour existence within the confines of my mouth. These films destroy things. Worse yet, they are highly efficient at their work.
I will speak as plainly as I can.
Lars von Trier: his attitude bugs me, and his films cause me to feel discomfort and guilt.
Last night I watched the third of his loose trilogy of films about Europe, "Europa". I have many thoughts about it, but most of all, it made me think about a kid I knew for just one school year long ago. His name was Camden Dore.
Mr. Dore carried a briefcase to school instead of a backpack, on occasion wore snakeskin boots, and hung out with my ex-girlfriend. At this time in my life I was enraptured with pressing buttons, so I joined the J.V. Academic League (Jeopardy for High Schoolers). Mr. Dore already was competing with the Varsity team. Perhaps he never knew it, but he was my archenemy.
The intriguing aspect of this story, however, is that in that year Mr. Dore became one of my better friends. We bonded through our diversity. At the time, I saw Camden as a force to be reckoned with in our High School community. I saw him as a leader. I saw him as someone worthy of being an absolute archenemy. The truth is probably closer to the idea of Mr. Dore being an outsider. He was a transfer student who brought a suitcase to class. I'm pretty sure that suitcases have yet to become a fad in teenage style. But Dore had to be popular in my eyes for him to be an appropriate adversary.
Dore was the unstoppable force that I had to study to beat. His words, deeds, and actions had to be scrutinized daily. Every dot and tittle was to be noted.
We spent most of our time together chatting in our Psychology class... surely you can imagine how satisfying it is to debate one's rival in a room that focuses on the study of some of the greatest quacks in human history (That's not a bite at Psychology --- just many psychologists). One day Dore came into class late. He settled into his seat, and I began my usual barrage of pseudo-philosophical questioning. He had no time for it, and expressed his current distaste for these thoughts. He was clearly disturbed about something and wanted nothing of monumental conversating. Later I found out that it was a girl --- he was momentarily heartbroken, and the result was letting-up of his character. He failed to maintain his holy nemesis resolve. That day he was a regular high schooler. He was the thing that both of our thoughts worked to overcome. We both wanted to be above the system, to transcend highschoolery. He was a hypocrite. After that day, Camden Dore was just another guy.
Lars von Trier is destined for the same result.
The works of Lars von Trier, I find him to be ever intriguing. I also find his stuff to be ever repugnant. And yet, after having that sour flavor in my mouth for long enough, I am beginning to acquire an addiction to it. It is a kind of masochism.
The narration of "Europa" displays it well enough; von Trier is a control freak. I don't know if there is a film maker in the world that is in more control of the outworking of his mind in the whole of the world (even when he supposedly releases control, as in "The Boss of It All", he still seems to be flexing his might by his ability to be merciful and 'release control'). I love finding myself immersed in movies by directors like Wim Wenders or Jim Jarmusch (though they both have many off-films), in which the characters seem to breathe and move entirely of their own discretion. In von Trier's world, everything is pre-ordained. He IS A TERRIFYING GOD. The narrator of "Europa" tells us of his control from the very beginning. He tells us what we will do, who we will meet, and when we will die. In watching the film, we subject ourselves to be his slaves.
Luckily, for Mr. von Trier, he is adept with his many tools, and by his God-given nature, he is genius. Therefore, to be his slave, is to be controlled by someone who knows how to control exceptionally well.
Now, I have written that Lars von Trier is destined to suffer the same fate as Camden Dore did that fateful day that he allowed himself to become heartbroken. He cannot live up to be my new archenemy. Apparently, von Trier has a deafening fear of planes, so he won't ever visit America, the land he so readily recreates in his movies. This is a stupid characteristic. It is a severe character flaw, and it undercuts his ideology.
But von Trier has something going for him that Camden Dore lacked. Lars von Trier may keep his ideologies, and I may find myself becoming ever more coozy with his cruel manifestations, so long as I ignore Lars von Trier, the human. I'm sure the same is true of Sartre and Nietzsche. To see how their lives don't live up to their words would be iconoclastic.
To maintain the allure of Lars, to continue to snuggle-up with his toxic venom, I must see him only as the god of a strangely attractive world. Whoever the man, Lars von Trier, is, I must divorce myself from.
I have written much about the STATUS of my relationship to von Trier's works without describing at all what it is about those works that I find so wrist-slittingly enthralling. I will finish this off-the-cusp essay by telling one more analogy.
Before I met Camden Dore, I spent a summer working at an elementary school for the mentally handicapped. There was a student who loved rocks. There would be two jugs of rocks. I would grab a rock from one jug, hand it to the boy, to which he would respond by gleefully plopping the rock in the other jug. This amusement could last for two hours without rest. If I ever dared to become distracted from our epic duty of playing 'Rock-to-Jug-Forever' by looking away, this rock lover of mine would smuggle a rock into his shoes. This is where he kept his rock collection. We learned to check his shoes for stones before letting him run off anywhere, otherwise he would run about allowing the rocks in his shoes to bloody up his socks. He never seemed to mind the pain the rocks caused him. But he always screamed at us when we tried to take the rocks away.
A quote often associated with von Trier: “a film should be like a stone in your shoe”.
I have imagined being this boy, running on rocks nestled underneath my toes in my shoe. What is that like? I think this: as long as there are rocks in my socks, I will think of nothing else. It has the immediate ability to focus all my energy on this singular incident. My mind can be nowhere else.
It is often said that that with which we spend our time, there is our heart.