The Idiots (1998)

Directed by
Not just empty provocation
Reviewed by Simon on 2023-12-18

The second film to officially adhere to the Dogme 95 "Vow of cinematic purity" is an incredibly uncomfortable watch - a boundary-pushing pseudo-documentary about a group of people who take to "acting retarded" as a... statement? lifestyle? hobby?

The film seems calculated to push buttons and create controversy ("the first time an erect penis has been seen on UK TV!"), from its premise to its shocking scenes of debauchery - and no doubt it was, but it is not merely empty provocation. In stripping away even the most basic sense of decency that society demands, Lars Von Trier exposes his characters in a way that few films manage.

People are, on the whole, a mess. A confused mess, an angry mess, an arrogant mess, a frightened mess... we tell each other stories to obscure this, to present a narrative in which things make sense and serve a purpose, but that's not how most of us live our lives.

The titular Idiots are not an admirable bunch, nor even (I expect) a relatable bunch, but they are a believable bunch. They too try to tell us a story, to assert that they are living with purpose... but under our scrutiny it falls apart as they see that they really are idiots, just like the rest of us.