The Element of Crime
"ugliness possesses some dynamics in itself, while beauty has
a tendency to fade with time" (Lumholdt 20).
Lars Von Trier, interviewed by Lars Schwander in 1983
Points of Reflection
Lars Von Trier's The Element of Crime (1984)
1. Lars von Trier has suggested (Lumholdt 25-26) that all stories build themselves around archetypes, and that The Element of Crime (1984) employs the archetypes of Father (Osborne), Son (police commissioner Fisher), and Holy Ghost (Harry Grey). Does using the Holy Trinity as a loose reference point help you understand certain features of this film?
2. the Germany which Fisher recently returned from (remember that he’s in Cairo as he recounts this tale for his therapist) is configured by Von Trier to represent Europe as a whole. In what ways has Germany/Europe apparently changed recently—according to Osborne, Fisher, and others?
3. why might Von Trier douse his entire production with water? Why make it so omnipresent?
4. horses seem ubiquitous in this film. Does Von Trier assign this motif a single symbolic function?
5. for what possible reason might the men with shaven heads participate in the very dangerous “Dive”? Also, why is Kramer (the police chief) so set against this practice?
6. Von Trier frequently inserts objects with cage-like wire (a bit like chicken wire) into his shots. To what end?
7. why is Obsorne so upset when he learns that Fisher had The Element of Crime translated into Egyptian?
8. how does Fisher react to the presence of the mutilated girl’s body?
9. Osborne claims that Harry Grey is dead. Is he correct?
10. why does Osborne tells Fisher “Police work has become so much more dangerous now than it was in your day”?
11. in his book, Osborne claims that—a man in a hostile crowd points out—that “‘crime can only arise in a specific element, the element of crime.’” Does the film as a whole seem to support this notion that criminal action, to be born, requires gestation within a certain kind of environment?
12. does Von Trier’s portrayal of sex in this film suggest an intimate liaison between two individuals who receive equal measures of pleasure from the act?
13. what do you make of Kim’s comments about morality and God? Are they serious, farcical, or something else altogether?
14. who attacked Kim while Fisher was out?
15. why does Fisher decide to leave Germany following Kim’s revelation about her child?
16. when Fisher is alone with the girl, in his attempt to set up and capture Harry Grey, we see a shadow pass by the window outside the room where the two are hiding. Whose shadow is this?
17. who speaks the film’s final lines, and at whom are these words directed?
18. at what moments in this film do the laws of time and space appear to be bent, even broken?
19. what kind of tattoo does Kim get, and why? Also, why is their blood on her bed?
20. Lars Von Trier employs a rich visual language to convey some of the ideas embedded in this work, often in the absence of any dialogue. Identify some of the more enigmatic, striking images he creates, and consider their possible significance.
"The Enigma of Hitler" (1938)
oil on canvas
Dr. Paul Marchbanks
horses seem ubiquitous in this film. Does Von Trier assign this motif a single symbolic function?