01 February 2010

The Idiots / Idioterne - Lars Von Trier

The Idiots (also known as Idioterne) is a film by Lars von Trier; a rather peculiar film by all accounts. Certainly it's far removed from popular Hollywood fare, not only because of its subject matter but also because of its adherence to the Dogme 95 rules. Dogme 95 is a controversial manifesto concerning the production of films, limiting film-makers to shooting only on location, recording only those sounds found on-set and using only handheld cameras, amongst other things. The full manifesto can be read at www.dogme95.dk, which makes extensive use of The Idiots for examples of appropriate Dogme 95 practice.

The plot is simple: a group of young people come together with the aim of exploring idiocy. To achieve this aim they spend time in 'normal' society behaving as one might expect an idiot to behave. Drooling, unprovoked outbursts, wanton sexual behaviour - all these are demonstrated by the actors, unleashed on an innocent society which, by all accounts, copes as one might expect. Diners in a restaurant, in the opening scenes of the film, are clearly uncomfortable as they observe what appears to be two mentally retarded individuals being taken out for lunch. The reaction of the other diners is a familiar one, whether through our own observations of others, our own treatment at the hands of others, or even our own attitudes towards those around us.

It is here that the controversy of Idioterne strikes. Some may not wish to watch people pretending to be idiots, finding the provocative message too disturbing, perhaps, or merely too foolish for consideration. Perhaps we know people who cannot help but display such behaviour, and feel offended on their behalf. Perhaps we cannot understand why one would wish to indulge in such behaviour: is it merely an extended practical joke, only slightly above wanton vandalism when it comes to being a mature, upstanding member of society? Perhaps, strangest of all, we're drawn towards such indulgences - we've all made public spectacles of ourselves at one time or another, surely. And sometimes, the sensation of guilty pleasure is overwhelmingly good.

Karen, the main character in the film, is a mixture of all three reactions. Initially angered by the group, she is gently drawn into their world, and as the course of the film allows their small, indulgent society to slowly break apart, Karen is the only one who can prove her commitment to the cause. A display of idiocy before her family brings the film to a close with a strange sense of triumph.

The Idiots was released in 1998 by Lars von Trier. Rated R in the USA for strong sexuality and nudity, the film was banned in several countries, and cut heavily for other releases. At 110 minutes, The Idiots is a pleasantly disquieting way to spend a couple of hours, though its joyful depiction of the idiots in question will do little to secure your happiness in society.

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