The Five Obstructions
"I happen to be of the opinion that if things exist, then you're not only allowed
to show them, you have to show them" (Lumholdt 15).
Lars Von Trier, interviewed by Lars Schwander in 1983
Lars Von Trier's The Five Obstructions (2003)
1. does Lars von Trier’s experiment feel as playful as it is intentional? How seriously does he approach this project?
2. what ideas appear to drive the limitations Lars von Trier sets before Jørgen Leth? What does von Trier wish Leth to face, and feel?
3. how does von Trier come up with the specific limitations of the first obstruction?
4. does Leth’s interest in the physical appearance of his actors seem unnecessary, or quite practical?
5. is the First Obstrruction film what Leth worried it would be, a “spastic film”? Is it capable of being enjoyed, or does everything move too quickly?
6. does Leth divide his time between male and female more equally in his first remake then he did in the original from 1967?
7. which questions articulated in the original film are reiterated in the first obstruction and answered?
8. right after von Trier likens this project to therapy, he notes that he wants to move from the perfect to the human. What does he mean, and how does he elaborate his agenda?
9. do any of the elements of the Second Obstruction resemble elements from the First Obstruction?
10. Leth says LvT wants to see whether the experience will rub off him—whether it will be quantifiable. Is Leth, indeed, affected emotionally by this process?
11. is Leth able to reproduce the spontaneity of Claus Nissen, the original man in the film, when he attempts to play the perfect man himself?
12. Leth thinks he responds creatively to the imposed limitation: “Don’t show the real drama.” What do you think? Does he break the rule?
13. what do you feel while watching Leth eat some of the lavishly prepared meal in the Second Obstruction?
14. how does von Trier punish Jørgen Leth for breaking the rule against showing the real, nearby drama?
15. why spend so much time showing Leth wandering around a hotel in Brussels, Belgium, trying to find his filming crew, during creation of the Third Obstruction? (The same goes for the long shot of him standing in a hallway listening to noises from bedrooms down the hallway.)
16. is the Third Obstruction, set in Brussels and using the French language, a tonal departure from what has preceded it? It obviously accomplishes something quite different stylistically.
17. do the women who appear in these films gain, or lose, agency/power from obstruction to successive obstruction?
18. following the Third Obstruction, von Trier observes that her efforts to trip up Leth keep running up against the older filmmaker’s cleverness and adaptability. He wants the Fourth Obstruction to be crap, an outcome he thinks he can guarantee by requiring what?
19. Von Trier wants the Fourth Obstruction to be “crap.” Is Leth okay with this, or does he fight against it?
20. what elements of the previous iterations make it into the Fourth Obstruction, and how does Leth transform them?
21. where does the Fourth Obstruction feel like a film noir?
22. where does von Trier find the material for the Fifth Obstruction?
23. the Fifth Obstruction is woven together by von Trier himself, with narration provided by Leth. Why do you think von Trier requires Leth to cite himself (Leth) as the director, instead of von Trier?
24. to what does von Trier confess in the script he has written for Leth?
25. did von Trier ultimately achieve what he set out to achieve with this project?
"Untitled" (Woman with Flower Head) (1937)
ink and gouache on paper
Dr. Paul Marchbanks
horses seem ubiquitous in this film. Does Von Trier assign this motif a single symbolic function?