When to Quit

After seeing and hating Dogville, my third Lars von Trier film, I wonder if I should add this director to a ban list? Which begs the question: should I have a ban list? If I do, who should be on it? At what point do I decide that an artist is no longer worthy of my time? When do I finally, for lack of a better term, quit a director?

First, I should offer a bit of context to my experience with Lars von Trier. My first von Trier was Antichrist. I watched it because a number of people were interested in my opinion since it straddled that line between arthouse and horror and I enjoy both types of film. I found Antichrist trite. There were moments of amazing artistic care, but even more moments where I felt that von Trier was trying to be offensive and shocking simply for the sake of being offensive and shocking.

While my next von Trier, Melancholia, wasn’t nearly as abrasive, I found that as I got a better sense of his views and ideas about the world and his confrontational and abrasive film style failed to appeal to me. Once again, he shows his promise as a craftsman, but he tries too hard to lecture me on his existential view about the world through some heavy-handed means. The whole film smacked of a kind of preachiness that I found tiring and annoying.

Yet I still found myself willing to give von Trier another chance. I’ve never made a strikeout system for an artist, but it seems like three would be a good number. And Dogville was a strikeout for sure. From the heavy narration, stilted dialogue and the barren stage, it was clear to me that Dogville is a novel masquerading as a play masquerading as cinema. It’s contrived, it’s on the nose, it’s trite and it’s grating. It’s easily the most unenjoyable movie I’ve seen so far this year.

And yet I don’t feel like I’m done with von Trier yet. I’ve seen and hated three of his films, I’d place them pretty high on my worst films I’ve seen list, and yet I’m still curious about Breaking the Waves and Dancer in the Dark. After three experience I’ve absolutely loathed, why can’t I just call it quits and move onto other directors that I’m more likely to enjoy?

Am I that much of a glutton for punishment? Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me three times and I’m left asking myself if I’ve gone insane. Do I really expect the next time to be any different? This isn’t the first time I’ve done this. I watched a stint of Ridley Scott films that I absolutely hated before I finally threw in the towel with only a couple films left unseen in his body of work.

Part of me thinks then my interest in watching films might have more to do with education, exposure and importance than enjoyment. It’s clear that I don’t enjoy von Trier’s films, but they’re films that have been heralded and discussed, so I feel obligated as someone interested in films to watch at least his most important and discussed works.

Another factor is that I want to believe I would be able to appreciate at least one of his films. First impressions aren’t always the best, but sometimes second impressions aren’t, either. My initial exposure to Woody Allen with both Annie Hall and Manhattan left me with little desire to watch any more of his work. Later, I ended up seeing Crimes and Misdemeanors, which I loved, and Broadway Danny Rose, which I enjoyed. If I had added a ban list, I would have never seen and enjoyed these films.

Therefore, I still want to believe that Lars von Trier might make a film I can enjoy and appreciate. It hasn’t happened in the first three times, which might be enough for most to quit, but I’m willing to continue. It’s quite possible I’m a glutton for punishment; I have seen every Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th film. However, maybe next time it’ll click. Maybe it won’t. There’s only one way I’ll know.

© 2014 James Blake Ewing