Shorter review here: Click
‘The Idiots’ is a film directed by Lars Von Trier in 1998, it was made in compliance with the Dogme ’95 Manifesto; an avant-garde filmmaking movement started in 1995, and was his first film. ‘The Idiot’s’ focuses upon the tale of a group of people who feign mental disabilities in pursuit of their ‘inner idiot’, their ‘spassing out’ is an attempt to release their inhibitions.
The film was deemed shocking, despite many disability groups approving of the film and agreeing that it exposed underlying social prejudices against disability. Micro-elements contributed to the shocking effect which this film induced upon some audiences. Realism was used to suspend the audiences sense of disbelief, such was achieved through sound, which was mainly diegetic. The dialogue seems real, unrehearsed and alike to everyday conversation but for the content of the conversations between characters. In making the dialogue believable, and in casting the characters to be believable, the film seems more real, thereby engaging the audience attention, forcing them to relate to it, and therefore the shock value is inevitably heightened.
Editing is a significant element with regards to the shocking impact of the film. For example: jump cuts; a character was being interviewed, their family were present then they disappear in the next shot. The lack of chronological ordering in the film does not however cause it to be nonsensical, the tale of ‘The Idiots’ is told like it happened in the past, and the present in the film is shown with the interviews of each of the groups former members, the cross-cuts between the past and present (the interviews) grants tantalising insights into the characters and the events of the tale, before the tale is fully told, which holds audience attention and assists the flow of the narrative.
My personal interpretation of the film is that it aims to educate the audience about society’s general view and attitude towards disabled people. The female main character begins oblivious to the groups intentions and ways (like the audience) and as she is led into their world so is the audience. The film seems to be about seeking deeper meanings, and sharing different perspectives, whether it be sharing the perspectives of someone completely healthy, someone disabled, someone inside the group or outside of it. I think that initially the main character acts as a representation of the ignorance of a lot of people to disability, and is a tool within the film to educate the audience. The film does not seem to hold bias as to a certain perspective, but rather it is explorative of different perspectives, whether they be shown through conflict between the characters, or contrast between general society and the group.
The characters struggles, emotions and lessons are ways of evoking similar feelings from the audience; for example the scene where one of the group pretending to be disables cries after they meet people with genuine disabilities, she cries from guilt and gain of a deeper understanding. The characters force themselves to understand societies prejudices and perspectives of disability by directly experiencing it, for example in the scene where one of the males in the group are assisted to urinate by a male stranger, the humility and potentially condescending aspects.
With regards to mise-en-scene, the shots which are held for a long time at various points create an uncomfortable atmosphere, and the fact that the camera is handheld, and also that the shots are inclusive of great detail (including that of nudity and penetrative sexual activity), add to the shock. This is because they do not romanticise, glamorise or sensationalise any events of aspects including disability. The camera movements and angles grant a raw and honest feel to the film, which leads me to believe that this film bows mainly to the category of visual and graphic shock, as well as the ideological shock of questioning morals, and challenging society’s perspective.
The only romanticism that the film seems to possess lies within the character’s initially naive portrayals of how they view disabled people to be, particularly when they use it to their advantage in the first scene; they deliberately ‘spass out’ to get chucked out of a restaurant and not have to pay.
There seemed a subtle hint of role reversal in the pub scene, where one of the males in the group was ‘spassing’ and stared unabashedly at a physically healthy man because he had a lot of tattoos on each arm, this hinted at the fact that a lot of people stare at disabled people, as they are a ‘social minority’, and I felt that the director made this decision to symbolise equality, to question whether our perspectives of minorities give us the right to hold prejudices.
Generally I would say that adult audiences ranging from young adult to above middle-aged would watch this, not merely because of censorship, but because it tackles a broad subject, and indeed a broad society, therefore potentially snatching the curiosity of many ages of people. However most people are shocked by this film, and many of them are offended by its content, or its violation of implicit textual construct between viewer and film.
I was not shocked or offended by the film, because I am open-minded and accustomed to films that are conventionally deemed shocking, but also because I thought that the film was intelligent, and I looked past what would moralistically be seen as shocking and wrong in order to gauge deeper meaning from it.
Note: I wrote this a long time ago back when I was a film student.