The latest offering from Lars Von Trier is the third season of his 1994 television series Riget, which was the Danish helmer’s only foray into television. Taking a leaf out of David Lynch and the American post-modernist’s decision to return to his ‘90s foray Twin Peaks, Von Trier creates a unique meta-narrative in Exodus, that centers around: himself.
In the first episode of the original series The Kingdom, Von Trier appears before the audience and gives them a piece of his mind relating to their bourgeois sensibilities and his attempts to jolt them out of the notion of art and beauty. The Kingdom Season 1 and 2’s discourse relates to the absence of grace in biological, positivistic science claiming that medicine is indeed the instrument of the Devil. Characters become increasingly entrenched in the transformation of the banal comedy into a horror film, thus creating an uncontrollable genre between horror and comedy. The negative space of Riget, is precisely the Kingdom of Jesus, the (Jewish) king of Israel who founded Christianity on the negative event of his own crucifixion. Von Trier has been banned at the Cannes Film Festival, for his comments on Adolf Hitler and apparent support for the cause of Nazism and the persecution of the Jews.
Jesus represents the Self, which must be destroyed, through his crucifixion for Grace to descend so that he may be resurrected. However, the indexical of the cross without Jesus, represents the negative space of Christianity, which in the early twentieth century found its logical descendent in the praxis of psychoanalysis. Von Trier engages the super conscious through unconscious repression. Between conscious and unconscious there is language as the signifying chain.
The entire hegemony of planning; as well as being close to the earth i.e., gravitation; creates the entry of Divine Grace as flying in airplanes and helicopters. These anti-gravitational machines reach their own Grace through the accident. The accident is not a film praxis, as in the films of Robert Bresson, who waited for the accident in each shot i.e., something going wrong in the shot; so that the uncontrollable may enter. Bresson’s praxis is indexical for the uncontrollable “Real” beneath the Symbolic veneer of the film, thus replacing representation with what he calls presentation. On the other hand, Von Trier enters the Symbolic regime through language disregarding the “Real” regime of him as the maker of the series, in this way creating meta-text of the first two seasons of the show.
The French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan emphasized the empty subject that was evoked through the signifying chain of language to allow the Symbolic to enter the Real. Conversely, Lacan’s theory on the permutation of 4-coin tosses and their possible results, created a transformation of the Real into the Symbolic. The Real, in Kantian terms is the thing-in-itself, the divine that manifests itself through a phenomenon. The phenomenon, as Ouspendsky points out, is indeed the image of the thing-in-itself. Christ’s crucifixion as Divine creates the image one of not a negation of the Self, but a murder of the Self. In other words, it produces a negative space.
Season 3 begins with the protagonist watching the conclusion of Lars Von Trier’s monologue after the end of Season 2. If The Kingdom of God belongs to Jesus, then in the case of Riget: Exodus Von Trier is the Father i.e., God. He maneuvers the characters so that the Symbolizations created produce a complex commentary on the times we live in. Hierarchy and patriarchy are symbols of the Name-of-the-Father, as the Symbolic regime that do not allow the Real-as-accident to enter its logic. His commentary on the accidental nature of sexual harassment is not a critique of feminism and the #MeToo movement. Instead, what Von Trier is critical of is precisely the chain of patriarchy that makes men feel that they control their own and the Big Other’s sexuality. At the end of each episode, we see the Lynchian red curtain with an index of Von Trier that does not allow a Symbolization of the divine, much like the cross.
The unconscious leads to the submerged face in the “Zone” i.e., the divine. The divine is a face without lips, or more specifically, an ugly face with lips submerged in water, i.e., devoid of utterance. The superconscious is free from utterance. However, Von Trier does not allow us to enter the super-conscious. He is instead creating a dualism of Good and Evil, mind and matter, gender (man and woman) and hierarchy (boss and employee) that manifest themselves in the plot. As the film maker Kamal Swaroop points out, the plot usually creates the Event, which is the Christian tradition of the murder of Jesus making him Christ. Jesus is positive, Christianity opens-up to the duality of unconscious and super consciousness, in other words: Good and Evil. Von Trier means to say, that positivistic science with its rationale, can only be useful in zero sum games. The doubling of the utterance through duality creates the image and shadow which meet at the Event. The Event is murder, indexed by the use of the gun, that either sprouts water or bullets. Water is a symbol for baptism, whereas the bullet is the modernized assassination of Jesus.
The lead doctor refers to a tetra Pak milk container as the Divine Father. Von Trier comments on the contemporary ecological crisis and the symbolization of possession that the unmanifest Father has in plastic. The final shot of the series after the end credits is the manifestation of the tetra Pak milk carton as God the Father as a pollutant in the sea. The sea is uncontrollable random space, which avoids a “Critique of Judgement” through being and not doing. The contradiction is, Von Trier is controlling every aspect of the judgements he produces.
Devdutt Trivedi is a Mumbai based film scholar & faculty