The Idiots, 1998.
Directed by Lars von Trier.
Starring Bodil Jørgensen, Jens Albinus, Anne Louise Hassing and Nikolaj Lie Kass.
Unhappy with their lives, a group of misfits find solace in feigning disability.
Lars von Trier’s The Idiots (Idioterne, 1998) features the potentially offensive story of a group of middle class people who pretend to be handicapped as they are unhappy with society. The film begins with Karen (Bodil Jørgensen) a middle aged woman eating in a restaurant. Karen notices two men who appear to be disabled interrupting other customers. Their female companion Suzanne (Anne Louise Hassing) is trying to take care of them. When Stoffer (Jens Albinus), one of the disabled men takes Karen by the hand, she accompanies him and his two friends to their car and joins them for a car ride. Karen then realizes that these are a group of pranksters who did it deliberately to avoid paying for their meal.
The rest of Stoffer’s group is then introduced via straight to camera confessions which continue throughout the film. Karen is the last to join this group of misfits and looks uncomfortable when they visit an insulation factory and pull the same disabled prank. She tells the group leader Stoffer that she does not find the group’s activities amusing. Karen frequently suffers breakdowns and it becomes obvious that she is hiding an unhappy personal life. The group discusses Karen to camera and come to the conclusion that she needs them to find happiness as she is a lost soul. On a later expedition to the woods, Karen asks Stoffer why the group behaves this way as there are people who are genuinely disabled. Stoffer tells Karen that the group is looking for their ‘inner idiot’ as they are all unhappy with their conventional lives and are therefore enjoying ‘spassing out’.
As the group’s pranks continue the to camera confessions make it clear that the group have since dissolved and gone back to their original lives. As Karen leaves the group she tells them that she is happy and has enjoyed her experience. Having struck up a good friendship with Suzanne, Karen takes Suzanne with her when she returns to her family. Suzanne then learns that Karen’s son had died prior to her joining the group.
This film would not be very engaging if it wasn’t for Karen who in many ways represents not only the group’s conscience but also the conscience of the audience watching. The group did feel ashamed as they met a group of genuinely disabled people. At the end as Karen began to ‘spass’ out in front of her family, she began to realize that she couldn’t escape the reality of losing her son. She had joined the group hoping to cope with her loss but was still unhappy. This scene was very moving.
The film also featured full frontal nudity (male and female) and a graphic orgy scene with penetration shots. Thankfully this was relatively brief and was followed by a tender love scene between two of the younger members of the group with obvious strong feelings for each other. The film was not as offensive as its subject matter suggested though it was not an easy film to like as it didn’t make any good points about the disabled and their place in society. The film focused instead on a group of people who really should have known better. Despite the film’s controversial subject matter, the BBFC did not consider it as offensive to the disabled and released it uncut with an 18 certificate, seemingly because it was an art film only likely to appeal to a certain kind of audience.
Santosh Sandhu graduated with a Masters degree in film from the University of Bedfordshire and wrote the short film 'The Volunteers'.