The majority of people who hear the name Lars Von Trier will think similar things. They will say he’s controversial. They will say his films are dark. That he’s a downer. And while his work might have always been a little more controversial than others, most people only know the 2nd half of Von Trier’s filmography. They’re quick to mention Antichrist, Melancholia, or The House That Jack Built. Even those who go to mention Dancer in the Dark have never seen or never want to talk about the likes of Europa/Zentropa or Breaking the Waves.
But there is one Lars Von Trier project that too many people are unaware of; Riget/The Kingdom. Started in 1994, The Kingdom aired as a close to 5 hour mini-series on New Year’s Eve. The original intention was to make one every year to show on New Year’s Eve with the final culmination airing to bring in the new millennium. Ideas changed and when star Ernst-Hugo Järegård passed away after The Kingdom II was released, it seemed like The Kingdom was dead, forever. Though it was the inspiration for the Stephen King penned mini-series in 2004, The Kingdom Hospital, the final pieces to the Lars Von Trier epic were gone.
Cut to 25 years later, and The Kingdom Exodus is upon us! Unleashing through the power of the streaming service Mubi, The Kingdom Exodus has been making its way through the film festival circuits and was shown as part of the 60th annual New York Film Festival. And while it has been so long since the last installment, and only a handful of the original cast are back, the series has seemingly lost nothing in the interim. I won’t go through a full rundown of the story this far, it is best you go search it out for yourself and watch what was once billed as, “ER on acid.”
The original series, while a tightrope act the entire way through, finished with what could be described as the simultaneously scariest and funniest work ever put forth into the world. And while the strange and creepy nature of The Kingdom still persists in The Kingdom Exodus, Von Trier and his co-writer Niels Vørsel lean heavily on the comedy for the grand finale. Playing off hyper sensitive jokes of tensions between Denmark and Sweden still have a home in part three, but the stakes take an even wackier turn. Whether it is the continuation of Stig Helmer’s (Ernst-Hugo Järegård) hubcap gag from early in part one or the absolutely inane ultimatums of Dr. Naver (Nikolaj Lie Kaas), laughter is the linchpin of this series.
New comers to the series can watch The Kingdom Exodus as its own entity if they want. There are flashbacks and references, but really, this is something of its own at the end of the day. Some things are not explained fully for those who have not seen the first two installments, but you can get through this with ease if you want to start here. Though, it is suggested you watch them all. There are also some surprise familiar faces from Hollywood that make up a good chunk of the experience.
The biggest surprise of The Kingdom Exodus though, is its meta humor. The new installment introduces us to our new protagonist Karen (Bodil Jørgensen), as she is watching her copy of The Kingdom II on DVD. It’s a brightly lit, wide ratioed shot. Not like what you’re used to seeing in this series. Until she steps foot into the hospital, where the aspect ratio changes and the color returns to the traditional sepia toned style viewers are used to. Next comes the classic intro song along with the choppy and nonsensical intro visuals. Long time fans are in for a treat.
This meta aspect doesn’t stop there though. All through the runtime, mentions of the show and even characters talking about how they were directed by Von Trier, pop up. Tour groups pass by in the background as the guide mentions a shooting location for part II, “which of course wasn’t as good as the original.” It is non-stop. Sometimes it can be a little distracting, and other times it is just dead brilliant. But there is a good reason for it all.
Before filming the series, Von Trier was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. It became difficult to deal with during the production. What Von Trier has done is build The Kingdom Exodus into a temple for himself. There are a lot of situations and jokes within that seemingly point to things about his life and his work. And sure, some of it can be seen as problematic. And, while there is always a chance that he makes another film somewhere down the road; The Kingdom Exodus is a signed calling card to Lars Von Trier’s filmography.
Final Grade: A-
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Here’s the trailer of the film.