The Kingdom Pt 1 – tons of fun the von Trier way. (film review)
Television has always left me cold. I haven’t had it habitually on for over a decade in my life, preferring films. There are television shows I like – comedies – but I get these on DVD. Even the so-called brilliant mini-series of late… notably The Wire and Breaking Bad failed to reach me. I couldn’t get through the first season of Dexter. Lost is probably my best achievement – I got to the start of the fifth series before deep boredom set in and I just couldn’t do another minute. But I did have a great time for the first couple of series, so I consider that something of an achievement.
However, I’ve found a mini series that I am loving!
I have not been able to stop watching Lars von Triers The Kingdom. I’ve now completed the first series – four episodes in all, each about 1.5 hours or so… maybe a little shorter than that. Despite the fact that the show starts slower than cold molasses, I”m completely hooked now.
It probably helps that this series is only two seasons long. The first ends with every one of the intricate plot lines burst open and bleeding with no resolution. The cheeky von Trier steps out at the end of each episode and taunts me with a bit of a dare to watch the next one. As each episode gets creepier and closer to the horror, he asks if I looked away, claiming only then will he have gotten to me. “The real horror starts when the eyes are closed.” he taunts. Despite the hanging story lines, there is something strangely complete about each episode, and I find myself watching the next not so much to find out what happens as just to stay in this odd interesting world.
The primary premise is the battle between science and the occult. However, the choice of a series run out of a hospital has to have commentary on day time tv and the consuming soap opera. This is such a cheeky series that in jokes that you feel apart of are everywhere – and in jokes you feel distanced from. There is a battle going on between the Danes and the Swedes I know nothing about, for example, that is revealed in this show, but obviously belongs to the inhabitants of those two countries. Plot lines are as perverse as you can imagine. Consider this: A young med student wants to impress an older female doctor, so he sends her the severed head of a cadaver; the shows protagonist fakes illness so she can get into the hospital to find out about the ghost of a young girl that walks the corridors; A ghost (played by the wonderfully creepy Udo Kier) impregnates one of the doctors and then bursts out from between her legs in a VERY graphic birth shot, fully grown; A doctor is trying to destroy evidence that will implicate him in botched surgery that left a young girl severely brain-damaged, and he tries to eat the evidence; and my favorite plot line of all – a doctor bent on fame and glory in the scientific community has a cancerous liver implanted into his body (removing his healthy one) so he can grow it to be the biggest cancer and become celebrated for his research that has attracted a lot of ridicule prior.
This is a horror story, but it’s also extremely funny. I laugh loudly at its wit and warmth. It’s beatifully made to, with the entire camera image washed in sepia, and the intermittent turning to two Down’s syndrome workers who wash the dishes in the kitchen basement and act as a greek chorus commenting and interpreting each and every encounter with the supernatural that humans in the hospital experience.
It’s also very clever. The self-congratulatory smugness of the medical profession is called into question (a favorite narrative of mine) our own fascination with hospitals, sickness and the inside of our bodies, the questions of life and death and the afterlife, and most interesting of all, the question of what we expect when we watch television and what the television must deliver. Perhaps this is ultimately why this mini-series has captured me so strongly. It plays with narrative and at the same time remains strictly true to the rules of the mini-series. It calls into question what we are doing when we watch television, and for me that a question worth asking.
I’ll stop here because I want to do another post about part 2.
But I have to head back to watch it first. (grin)