Published Jun 01, 2000Lars von Trier considers The Idiots to be his greatest film. Genius though he is, I have to disagree with him in his assessment of this, the second, and most scandalous film to be made under the Dogme 95 manifesto (Mifune, and the forthcoming The King is Alive are numbers three and four). The rambling story-line focuses on a commune of social drop-outs who, under the charismatic leadership of a man named Stoffer (Jens Albinus), devote themselves to an activity called "spazzing," which involves acting out mentally retarded behavior in various public places. Although this is fiction, it's presented in a more documentary-like manner than any Dogme film thus far, and von Trier seems more than a little pleased with himself for his refusal to judge any of the aberrant behavior he puts on display (there's an X-rated orgy scene that's already become notorious).
You can keep waiting for some kind of thematic underpinnings to emerge, but those too are disregarded by the directorial perspective. This isn't a movie about rejecting middle-class notions of respectability or acceptable behavior, it's about von Trier rejecting his own good sense. The only purpose of this close-knit group is to be totally authentic and uninhibited in their spazzing (they even have debriefing sessions), and they do just that until outside reality slaps them in the face. Although there is a conscience in the film, represented by the commune's newest recruit, Karen (Bodil Jorgensen), she provides a very weak perspective as she meekly questions the rightness of what they're doing, before ultimately becoming a devoted disciple. In the end, even Karen's stinging final moment of epiphany falls way short of providing a coherent philosophical mandate for the film. The Idiots is the kind of folly that only an ambitious, uncompromising director like von Trier could make. His masterpiece, Breaking the Waves, was a tricky and provocative lesson on the nature of goodness and moral relativism. The Idiots is a different story. It people and wear the right clothes, especially at that time, lik