Lars von Trier’s contribution to the Dogme 95 genre he helped invent is a film which is difficult to watch because of the poor production values, and yet they seem strangely suitable, and if von Trier remade it with proper cameras and filmmaking tools, it would be a mistake. Thankfully, he hasn’t, and we have The Idiots to hold close to us when we think of von Trier and Dogme 95.
One of the things which makes the Dogme style work for this film is the fact that it is a documentary of sorts in the first place, so filming it normally would ruin its style and aesthetic and make it seem less realistic.
The story might remind some people of the TV shows Jackass or Punk’d, but believe me, the film (especially in its shocking third act) is extremely different from those shows. It follows a group of normal people who decide to rebel against the order and routine of bourgeoisie society by pretending to be mentally retarded and thus, ‘unleashing their inner idiot.’ The film is no doubt going to be offensive to some, especially those with sensitive feelings about people with mental disabilities, but von Trier’s intention is not to be racist, prejudiced or to make fun of these people; he glamorizes their lifestyle, and when participants of this idiot group are attacked for their stupidity, von Trier puts the viewer in their position as persecuted and hated.
The film is also very funny, at times. Some early sequences are set up in a manner similar to the aforementioned TV shows, such as a scene where a couple looking to buy a house are informed by one of the participants, who is acting normally, that if they buy the house, they must be prepared to allow the ‘idiots’ access to their garden as they please, adding that they belong to a ‘nuthouse’ next door. The awkward look on the bourgeois couples’s face as this is explained to them is a perfect criticism of their simplistic lifestyle, and von Trier’s spiteful grin at seeing middle-class people squirm. In one scene, the idiots are introduced to a group of people with actual mental disabilities, and the weird feeling in this scene as the idiots attempt to stay in character is likely to put a grin on your face.
But as I mentioned earlier, the film is not all fun and games. When Karen, an innocent woman, is lured into their group, the fun they are having quickly turns to self-degradation and embarrassment. Karen is lonely, and the idiots welcome her into their group, and in the film’s awkward final scene, Karen finally unleashes her idiot and is brutally berated by her family for her actions.
The film’s most controversial scene might seem unnecessary to some, but I’d like to remind those people that you’re watching a Lars von Trier film, so live with it. The scene in question is a partially unsimulated group sex scene, in which almost all the idiots (except Karen) participate. The scene is likely to disgust and turn people off, and it’s probably the only criticism I have of the film. We might think this is von Trier being cheeky and hate him for it, but this is the last scene in the film that has a positive emotional feeling, and marks the end of their happiness before they are broken apart, and I think that when considered in this context, the scene works wonderfully.
There are various hints and complete giveaways throughout the film that what we’re actually watching is a documentary, such as assorted scenes in which the idiots are interviewed by the voice of (who else?) Lars von Trier, as to why they are doing what they’re doing and the effect it’s having on each of them. The Dogme 95 effect might seem cheesy, stupid or pointless to some, but it’s gritty feel only makes it seem more like life, and in this manner it has to be one of the more realistic films I have seen recently.
The film might sound upbeat and… well, idiotic, and at times it is, but I must stress that the real mood it evokes is one of sadness, compassion and empathy for these confused people who are not trying to mock the mentally handicapped, but experience freedom from the chokehold of bourgeoisie society, and feel briefly free, careless, and not have to worry about the constantly daunting social, economical and political issues.
That’s my review. What did you think of the film, if you’ve seen it. If you haven’t seen it, does it intrigue you? Any thoughts you have at all? Leave a comment below.