Lars von Trier: A True Pioneer

Through the two years I have spent studying film and the 20 years I have spent watching them on screen, I have developed a passion for seeking out stories that speak to us. Stories that make us forget everything else going on in the world, stories that have the ability to shock and astound us, make us cry, make us laugh. Stories that can inspire and ignite our souls to go on and do more, having a greater impact that we don’t just sit and watch, we feel and truly experience the film itself.

One director who has the ability to shock us as well as make us feel a complex range of emotions in a 2 hour sitting is Lars von Trier. A Danish director who burst onto the international film scene in the 1990s, capturing the attention of professionals and audiences around the world with his artistic format and confidence to stretch new ideas on screen.

“I think it’s important that we all try to give something to this medium, instead of just thinking about what is the most efficient way of telling a story or making an audience stay in a cinema.” (Lars Von Trier, MUBI, 2016)

Lars von Trier is celebrated as more of an auteur of film. He is an author, a true storyteller who spent years developing his craft so that he could express new ideas and feelings in a completely different way. Through researching his work, I looked more into the movement he started in 1995. Dogme 95 was brought about in an attempt to bring power back to the director and away from the studio. A set of rules were devised that were to be adhered to known as ‘The Vow of Chastity’.

“I swear as a director to refrain from personal taste! I am no longer an artist. I swear to refrain from creating a “work”, as I regard the instant as more important than the whole. My supreme goal is to force the truth out of my characters and settings. I swear to do so by all the means available and at the cost of any good taste and any aesthetic considerations.” (Dogme95, 1995)

The unique point here was that this movement wanted to tell stories in their most truest form. Nothing artificial. The director was no longer an artist in this instance, even though the majority of the world would still regard them as such. It was more that the director would not have such a mindset and would only be guided by the story, by the actors performance, by the environment and setting they were shooting in. These rules had a huge impact on the film world, with many of the industries recent feature and short films being shot in accordance with ‘The Vow of Chastity’.

My experience of von Trier’s work came through the ‘Depression Trilogy’ a series of three films that focus on specific feelings and psychological issues, how they resinate in von Trier’s world. He brings in social issues and focuses on a particular area such as mental health or a theme that affects many people. He explores the depth of this and portrays such objects or ideas in a very visual format, making reference to other aspects of life, nature, theory. The first film being Antichrist (2011), the second Melancholia (2011) and the final Nymphomaniac (2013). Focusing specifically on Nymphomaniac, it was split into two films that follows the story of Joe, a self-diagnosed Nymphomaniac who recounts her life and her encounters with other men. The most effective element of this film is the way in which the character Seligman, who takes Joe in and listens to her story, carefully relates aspects of her life to things that he has read. This can be in regards to nature, life, religion. This technique and style is what separates von Trier from other filmmakers, his efforts of representing life in a very unique format. Links made between human choices and behaviours with that of nature, that of theory, of equations. How everything can be looked at differently. For example, Joe explains how she lost her virginity to a man named Jerome. He penetrates her three times vaginally and 5 times anally. Seligman relates this to the Fibonacci sequence and this is referenced on screen visually.

Nymphomaniac is beautifully shot and the pacing allows time to think and really feel for each and every character, understanding their significance. The film shocks you at every turn but it’s efforts to rationalise the almost obscene material, makes us focus more on the reactions of the characters. Why it is that Joe feels the need to have sex with so many men? How she is able to rationalise things herself? How Seligman will react and almost act as a representation of the audience.

Lars von Trier is viewed as one of the more pioneering directors of our generation and has experimented with his craft, constantly developing new ideas and new ways to tell stories that consume us. “Probably the most ambitious and visually distinctive filmmaker to emerge from Denmark since Carl Theodor Dreyer over 60 years earlier” (IMDb, 2016) His work has been controversial at times but that is to be expected when you take people out of their comfort zones, when you push boundaries of an industry that is familiar to so many.

Through this research of a truly exceptional filmmaker, I have been able to better understand the films of his that I have watched and to some of his methods and techniques used. I now realise his true efforts to make the story the key importance with no interference from a big studio or outside influence blurring the focus. His style of Hyperrealism and Dogme 95 look to tell stories in their purest form, shocking us by baring all, not hiding behind the rules, censoring what we know is there. Nymphomaniac gave us so much to be shocked about and yet when I watched it, I felt myself engrossed in this conversation between two strangers, accounting a life filled with emotional struggle.

It has given me much to think about and how going forward into my final year at University, I can incorporate such skill and thought into my final project. I look to shoot a documentary in Morocco, it may not be a film but I can borrow some of the techniques from say Dogme 95 to ensure that the interviews and stories I capture are pure, nothing artificial whatsoever!


DOGME95 The Vow of Chastity [Online] Available from: [Accessed: 25th September 2016]

IMDb (2016) Lars von Trier Biography [Online] Available from: [Accessed: 25th September 2016]

MUBI (2016) Lars von Trier [Online] Available from: [Accessed: 25th September 2016]



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