Lars von Trier: A Cut Too Far?

The news that Lars von Trier will be releasing his latest movie, ‘Nymphomaniac’ in a hardcore version as well as softcore version will come as no surprise (and possibly prove to be a relief) to anyone who survived the uncut version of his 2009 outing, Antichrist.

For the record, it took me two attempts. It’s a tough film to watch, and that’s before taking into account the innumerable and inordinately violent incidents that befall Willem Defoe’s genitalia. And I love von Trier.

A controversial view, perhaps? The board of directors at Cannes might say so, having banned him from the festival after he expressed an ill-advised view of Adolf Hitler. Many others might agree after revelations that Norwegian mass killer Anders Behring Breivik had listed von Trier’s ‘Dogville’ as one of his favourite movies.

Surprisingly though it isn’t usually this stuff that attracts the major headlines. The manner in which von Trier chooses to explore concepts in his films is generally what get’s the mainstream press excited; marriage, attitudes towards the mentally impaired and bereavement have all received the von Trier treatment, utilising what is generally perceived to be excessive nudity, extreme violence and graphic sex as the tools of deconstruction. This has seen his work condemned in much the same manner as mainstream movie treasures such as Hostel, Saw and The Human Centipede.

Even his producer and business partner Aalbæk Jensen, when asked whether the decision to produce two versions of ‘Nymphomaniac’ implied that film was even more shocking than von Trier’s usual fayre said: “I hope not – they are too much for me. I hope it is less violent.”

But none of this is why I think von Trier’s work should be treasured. Or why I had to abandon my first viewing of AntiChrist before I’d even figured out what the talking fox was supposed to symbolise. It was the emotional brutality that forced me to switch off and breathe. The director’s ability to draw deep into his actors’ personal wells of pain and suffering is astonishing; the willingness they clearly have to expose themselves for the role means that the viewer feels every blow as though it were to their own body. Admittedly he chooses to work with only the very best, but it’s a testament to von Trier that actors known in the mainstream will risk their reputations to work under his direction.

Isn’t this what film making should be about? If there is room in the world for Transformers trilogies and low rent franchise rips, then surely there is room for darkness? Okay, von Trier’s fondness for extreme sequences is distracting to some, but while we would all love to believe that humanity is basically good, it isn’t. Desperately horrific things happen to people every single day and anyone making an effort to explore them in a serious manner should surely be applauded. Or at least respected.

Maybe it’s a mistake to release ‘Nymphomaniac’ in two cuts. The visceral horror on the screen is there not to titillate but as a mechanism to draw the viewer into the intensity of the moment. Without the emotional weight that develops, von Trier’s movies would just be more of the same pornographic gore of the kind Eli Roth specialises in.

Let’s hope not, shall we?

Image: Getty Images

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