The Current Study
LARS VON TRIER
The Accidental Humanist
And so begins my second film study…
When I decided to approach film analysis from an academic point of view, I also decided I would select specific filmmakers that either inspired or challenged my own perceptions of cinematic art, while also presenting ties to a chief interest of mine – which is humanism in film. So I would be looking at filmmakers whom I perceived to be, in one way or another, humanists.
I think I made that case quite clear in my Cassavetes essays.
And now I have decided to take on Lars Von Trier… A controversial figure who many would argue has nothing to do with humanism.
But I disagree. He may or may not be a humanist. That is, in fact, what I want this study to help me discover. But, based on my initial research – and the viewing of his first films – I am convinced he is an anti-humanist, and so it still falls within my spectrum of study.
But this does not mean his films are as cold and clinical as many believe. Because I think that humanity does concern him. And his films are all, in one way or another, character studies. If we consider, for example, his first trilogy, all three films are about idealistic heroes who enter a hostile world and attempt to save it. And this theme of idealism and sacrifice for the greater good would resurface in almost all his subsequent work.
So, while Von Trier may or may not be a humanist, the protagonists of his stories most definitely are. That the three heroes ultimately fail, and the reasons and circumstances of that failure, speaks to Von Trier’s overall view of humanism as a naive concept. People cannot be saved, apparently, especially not from themselves. So… Why should we bother?
I am really looking forward to this study, however, because I hope to be proven correct in the end… I think Lars Von Trier cares about people and humanity a lot more deeply than he seems to let on.