Review: The Idiots

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.

My Rating:

Average Rating:

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.


Posted on August 4, 2011, in Movie Reviews and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. daring film to review here tyler. one of those controversial films that people hate. especially after your recent ramble! i really enjoyed this film every time i saw it. i’m a big fan of the original dogme movement before any old hack film maker could get certified with their terrible movies. the final scene with karen and her family is comparable in feel and energy and impact as the famous revelation in mike leigh’s secrets & lies. superb film making.

    i was however under the impression from viewing the sex scene that none of the actual actors are in it, it’s a subtle smoke & mirrors effect with scandinavian pornstars acting like idiots for the gangbang.

  2. Not that I was paying attention but there were so many different faces on camera, where you ask yourself if it was actually one of the characters that they must’ve not been actors

  3. OK OK I have read enough. This is not a film for me.

    Thanks for reviewing Tyler but I vow never to see a von Trier film. The man just repels me. I have read nothing of any of his films that makes me want to watch. Pretentious twaddle.

    I appreciate that they have a place in the ART world. But not in mine. Sorry matey. I am glad you like it. But I will stay away.


    • Hey look, I understand completely. I know a few people who feel the same as you. That is something I will have to live with. I knew I couldn’t ride along a Von Trier cloud forever, and there will always be haters. I will not sway you or try to convince you otherwise, since you are so adamant in your hatred. Thanks for commenting, even if the man does repulse you.

  4. While i am not a extreme Von trier hater, but i’ve noticed he seems to have a obsession with having real sex in movies…and i just can’t understand why. I mean, when i aw it in Antichirst it didn’t really add anything to it…in fact, i have yet to see a movie where i feel a unstimulated sex scene added something to the story that a graphic but unstimulated sex scene couldn’t.

    • His parents were nudists, so he was used to sex and nudity and couldn’t understand why people made such a big deal out of it. When you think about it, you sort of have to agree.

      • I just realized i made a major typo, although i think you got my point. I am personally not one to make a big deal out of sex and nudity, but i just don’t think real sex is needed for a sex scene. I mean, Spartacus and True Blood are 2 shows that have very graphic sex scenes without having to resort to actual sex.

    • I agree that in most cases it is unnecessary, but it is an artistic choice on von Trier’s part. I guess we’ll never know what motivates him into showing these unsimulated scenes, but I have a feeling his intention is not to show pornography or to arouse.

  5. As You mention he was raised with nudity around him. I personally think it’s a very interesting question, why we have the feelings we have regarding nudity.

    Why is it a controversy to see naked boobs, ass or penis in a movie? We all have them, right.

    But even me, who comes from a country where it’s perfectly normal as an adult to go to a sauna with your parents or friends, can’t help to feel a tiny bit uncomfortable seeing naked people in movies. And personally I find it tremendous interesting why I feel that way.

    Why is that? It’s defiantly a cultural thing and I think that is the reason Von Trier use it in his movies.

    I mean, why do we even ask what the purpose is? Or if it was necessary?

    I think that is the question he raises with the nudity.

    • The same goes for the unsimulated sex. He feels that sex isn’t as big a deal as people make it out to be which is why he is so casual and happy to include it in his films. Can’t wait for The Nymphomaniac, in which unsimulated sex is likely to be flooding the screen! 🙂

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