Upon viewing Lars Von Trier’s skin-crawling epic, The House that Jack Built (2018), one is left with no choice but to consider mental health and its role in the film. The film contains by far one of the rawest and most accurate depictions of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder in media to date.
This article will detail OCD representation in The House That Jack Built through analysis and interviews.
Von Trier’s chaotic film is about Jack, a psychopathic, narcissistic serial killer with OCD. In the aforementioned scene, Jack has killed an innocent woman in her home. Once he leaves, his skin crawls from his imagination. He repeatedly sees images of blood under her carpet and lamp, which dangerously enough, makes him continue returning to the scene of the crime. This cylindrical cycle ironically almost gets him arrested by a nearby police officer.
Typically in film, characters suffering from mental illness are used as plot devices, or just for comedy. Jack's OCD is not the cause of his murdering spree, nor his psychopathy; it is an illness he is forced to deal with.
This next section will contain an interview with two college students who have OCD: Ava Simone, a 20-year-old actress, and Will Ethridge, a 21-year-old 2D animator. I showed them both the OCD scene from The House That Jack Built, a scene from The Big Bang Theory (S6E21) where Amy attempts to cure Sheldon's OCD with exposure therapy, and a short film titled Mr Hublot, which depicts a robot with extreme OCD who rescues a chaotic, messy dog.
CARTER TREY SMITH How was the House that Jack Built's representation of OCD? Was it appropriate? Was it accurate?
AVA SIMONE It's very accurate. It's the fact that he's so frustrated. Jack almost knows that it's irrational, but he can't stop and has to further investigate, even when there's a cop there. I found it to be appropriate.
WILL ETHRIDGE It's totally like that. You feel like something bad is going to happen. Since I'm not a serial killer, I mainly have that type of OCD with my cat. Every time I leave the door open and I don't know where he is, I feel like he's gonna sneak into my room. I always look everywhere to see where he is. I found it to be accurate.
CARTER TREY SMITH How was the Big Bang Theory's representation of OCD? Was it appropriate? Was it accurate?
AVA SIMONE This clip upset me because the representation is completely inaccurate and exposure therapy is not and will not ever be an appropriate form of therapy for OCD. A lot of people have this misconception that if you just force yourself to "not think that way" it will just go away. It's really upsetting and scary whenever it starts. So, I really feel this is a terrible representation and a terrible way to help someone who has OCD.
WILL ETHRIDGE OCD doesn't affect my day-to-day enough to attempt to stop it. It's really just become something I'm able to just live with. It's not something that exposure therapy would really be needed for. This representation was definitely inaccurate when it comes to my life and OCD.
CARTER TREY SMITH How was Mr Hublot's representation of OCD? Was it appropriate? Was it accurate?
AVA SIMONE I thought it was a very extreme representation of OCD. This is how I feel on my worst day, but not an everyday reality. Usually, OCD is represented as the worst-case scenario or just very specific compulsions like in this film.
WILL ETHRIDGE The OCD in the film was pretty over-exaggerated. There are people out there that do have extreme cases of OCD, but it would be pretty bland to show an exact representation. Media tends to over-exaggerate mental illnesses like OCD, which is necessary to a point, but usually goes over the line. I like that Mr Hublot didn't "fix" his OCD. He just learned to live with the dog and OCD.
CARTER TREY SMITH Do characters with accurately represented OCD make you feel more comfortable about your own?
AVA SIMONE As I have gotten older, my OCD has worsened and it can feel really isolating. It's definitely nice to see depictions of accurately represented OCD because it's affirming that I'm not crazy. It's a lot like talking to someone else with OCD. We can relate with each other.
WILL ETHRIDGE Yes. When I was a kid and it was more severe, I felt a lot more like a freak. I would be blinking in patterns and I would know people would look at me weird. Now that I'm generally more confident, it's more fun to see accurate representations because I can relate.
When it comes down to it, The House that Jack Built has an appropriate and accurate representation of OCD because the director himself, Lars Von Trier, has an obsessive-compulsive disorder. When a writer creates a character, it is important to know their life, mental illness, and motivations. When you take a real part of your own life and put it into your media, it is much easier to create an accurate representation. This is not to say that you cannot write characters with which you don't relate to.
The House that Jack Built’s candid representation of OCD towers over the Big Bang Theory because the film doesn’t attempt to glorify, cure, or joke about OCD. The illness is merely an element of Jack’s character. It isn’t inherently shown as good or bad.
In a world of so much misrepresented OCD, I hope I helped you understand how realistic depictions of mental illness help us all empathize.