By Richard Winters
My Rating: 7 out of 10
4-Word Review: This is so retarded.
The Idiots is another shocking, controversial, and highly original work from filmmaking maverick Lars Von Trier. This one involves a group of disenchanted people in their 20’s and 30’s, who decided to rebel from society by acting like they are mentally retarded.
Although certainly not in the best of taste, there are some funny bits here. The comedy works well because amidst all of the outrageousness it is also very revealing about human nature. One of the best segments involves an affluent couple who wish to purchase a large, upscale home. As they are touring the place they are informed that a group of ‘retards’ live next door. The couple put on the politically correct facade by saying that wouldn’t be a problem even though their facial expressions say otherwise. When the group pretending to be retarded pays them a visit the couple quickly runs off. Another funny part, which may actually be the most outlandish of the whole film, involves a group of tough, tattooed bikers who help in very graphic fashion one of the group members pretending to be mentally handicapped go to the bathroom. The group’s visit to a factory is also hilarious.
The majority of the film though is actually quite serious and yes, even thought provoking. Von Trier does a good job of analyzing things from different angles while supplying no easy answers. It was interesting how the group mocks society for all of their rules and customs and yet when one of their own members starts to act erratic they tie him to a bed and refuse to free him until he ‘settles down’, thus proving that even they themselves need certain rules of behavior in order to function even if they don’t want to admit it. Some other strong dramatic scenes involve the father of one of the members who tries taking his daughter from the group and back home with him. There is also a revealing segment involving one of the members who decides to ‘drop back into society’ and return to his job as a college professor despite the protests from the other members. The group also comes into direct contact with people who are actually mentally handicapped and how each of them responds to this is fascinating.
The characters are nicely fleshed out. All of them show distinct personalities and evolve in interesting ways as the film progresses. Karen (Bodil Jorgenson) acts as they catalyst. She comes upon the group by chance and acts as a sort of ‘conscience’ for the film. Initially she is shocked and confused by the group’s behavior, but because she is stuck in an unhappy relationship and grieving the recent death of her son, she decides to tag along. Eventually she starts to see the benefits of ‘spassing out’ which is the group’s term for ‘finding your inner idiot’.
I liked how the film challenges the concept of true rebellion and shows how complex the fabric of society really is. Everyone would like to ‘drop-out’ at certain times and there is even a need for it, but finding the right place can be complicated. I have often felt that the true nonconformist is either living on the streets, is in prison, or a mental institution and the film pretty much comes to this same conclusion, but without advocating ‘fitting-in’ with the establishment as the answer either.
My complaints for the film centers mainly on the over use of the hand-held camera, which tends to get distracting after a while and gives the film a needless amateurish feel. I know with Von Trier’s ‘Dogma 95′ manifesto the hand-held camera is a major factor, but I think he could back off a little with it. There is also a ‘gross-out’ segment at the end where the group member’s start to drool out their chewed up food, which I found completely disgusting especially the way the camera captures it in close-up. The pacing is pretty good, but it does drag a little at times and I felt the film went on about twenty-five minutes too long.
Obviously this is a film that will not appeal to everyone and in fact I would say that the majority of people may find it off-putting. That doesn’t mean it is a bad film because I think it is a pretty good one and I liked it overall. However, what makes it a good film is the fact that it works off of its own vision and makes no compromises in doing so. For most viewers especially American audiences who are used to a ‘mass-appeal’ approach to film-making, this type of concept may not connect.
My Rating: 8 out of 10
Released: May 20, 1998
Runtime: 1Hour 57Minutes
Director: Lars Von Trier
Studio: Zentropa Entertainments
Available: VHS, DVD