The House That Jack Built is a disturbing story a psychopath who narrates five random murders that he had committed over a period of 12 years. The film stars Matt Dillon in the lead role and a whole bunch of guest stars including Uma Thurman. It’s directed by Lars von Trier whose prior films include the Nymphomaniac movies and Melancholia. The film has a run-time of close to two and a half hours, so you’re going to have to be patient. While most of the film is pretty straight forward, the climax becomes eccentric and needs some explaining. So here’s the plot and ending of the movie The House That Jack Built; spoilers ahead.
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The House That Jack Built: Plot Synopsis
While it is disclosed only in the end, Jack is narrating his five random murders to someone by the name Verge, who we’ll talk about later. Let’s quickly go over the killings. Oh, it would be a good time as ever to know that Jack owns a walk-in freezer which has one compartment frozen shut. Oh and that Jack has OCD. Oh and that he’s been trying to build his perfect house but can’t because of his OCD.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, or OCD, is a medical condition; it’s an anxiety disorder that causes excessive thoughts that lead to repetitive behaviors. OCD, unfortunately, used casually to indicate a person is meticulous or organized. That is far from the truth. Find out more about obsession and compulsion here.
Murder One: Woman on the road
A lady (Uma) happens to ask Jack for help because her car’s broken down. Jack unwillingly agrees. The lady turns out to be a little pushy and jokes about how Jack could be a serial killer. When she happens to sufficiently piss him off, he bashes her skull in with the car jack that they’re trying to repair. After that, he transports her inside his freezer.
Murder Two: Woman in the house
Jack tricks an older woman into believing that he’s an insurance agent and can get her pension amount increased. She’s initially suspicious but eventually buys what he’s saying when he mentions money. Jack does a lousy job of choking her to death but gets there finally. As he tries to leave with her body, his OCD with being spick and span makes him visualize blood stains he’s left behind. This delays his exit, and a nearby cop shows up to investigate. Guessing that the police is going to make him open his trunk, he removes the dead body and puts it in the shrubs. Jack finally drives away dragging the body. Shabbily. All along the road. Leaving a long trail of face-blood right up to his cold storage. But then the great rains come and wash away the blood.
Murder Three: Woman and her kids
Honestly, this was a tough one to watch. Jack kills this woman’s two kids. Then he makes her feed the dead kids some pie, after that, shoots her down. He takes the bodies back but decides that he’s going to remodel the younger kid (Grumpy) to put a smile on his face. The stuff of nightmares.
Murder Four: Simple Woman
Jack has met a naive woman and is feeding her information about him being a psycho. She doesn’t believe him. Eventually, she gets creeped out and heads down. Ironically, they meet a cop, and Jack confesses to killing people. The policeman dismisses it to be a drunk couple’s fight. The lady seems stupid enough to take Jack back up where he finally kills her and cuts off her breasts. He finds the cop’s car and leaves one of her breasts on his windshield. And the other one, he makes himself a breast pocket purse.
Murder Five: Multi Head-Shot
Okay, so, this one is not a murder. It’s only an attempt. Jack has selected a bunch of random guys and aligned them to do an experiment. He wants to use a full metal jacket to see if he can kill all of them with one shot. Jack has the wrong bullet and goes to get that changed. In that process, Jack kills S.P, a person known to him, who believes he is a robber. Then Jack kills the cop who S.P has notified and steals his car. Once he gets back with the right bullet, he realizes that the gun is too close and he can’t focus. So Jack decides to move the gun behind, into that room that’s frozen shut. He manages to finally pry it open and place the gun. The cop car outside still has its siren blowing, and that attracts the attention of another cop who cuts into the freezer and fires a shot.
Let’s stop here because this is where all the bizarre elements of the film kick in, leading up to the credits, and you go “wait, what?”.
The House That Jack Built: Ending Explained
Who is Verge? What was The House That Jack Built about?
So let’s get the obvious out of the way – Verge is short for Publius Vergilius Maro, a.k.a Vergil, the poet who takes Dante through Hell. Right, so, we have a Dante’s Inferno allusion where a Verge is taking Jack through hell. But why? Why would Jack be in hell if he never died? This is where I prefer to think that Jack did die. We stopped going through the plot soon as the cop fired into the freezer.
Significance of that locked room inside the freezer
I believe that the room that is frozen shut is metaphorical in nature. That it is a part of Jack’s mind that is locked away. Inside this portion of his mind resides his conscience. He sees his conscience in the form of Verge. So why is Jack suddenly able to access this room (part of his mind) and able to talk to his conscience? Well, I’m going to go on a limb and say that shot the cop fired… hit Jack. And as Jack begins dying, he is able to access the area of the locked up mind and his conscience. Everything that we are shown – Jack physically meeting Verge, rapidly constructing the house of corpses, jumping through the hole in the ground, and the chaos that follows … is all happening inside Jack’s dying mind.
Jack is confessing his murders to his conscience (the confession conversation we have heard throughout the film). While his conscience, Verge, objects to what Jack is saying “Stop it…you Antichrist! I don’t recall ever having escorted a so thoroughly depraved person as you”, Jack seems to consider death to be artistic (and hence the comparison to the pianist). Jack’s conscience metaphorically takes him through the circles of hell. Through this journey, Jack witnesses a sight of a meadow with men working with scythes. This represents the place of innocence, and peace that he used to feel, as a child, watching the men working the meadows. Jack sheds a tear as he remembers his victims – perhaps the closest Jack will get to repentance.
The Broken Bridge in The House That Jack Built
Finally, they reach the broken bridge. The other side of the bridge leads to Heaven, but Verge tells Jack that it’s not where he’s meant to go. Jack doesn’t care, he wants to climb all the way around and tries to, but falls into the abyss. Effectively, Jack dies, and in his fading mind, he witnesses himself falling into the inferno, into hell. His conscience doesn’t allow him to be acquitted of his crimes.
The House That Jack Built: An Alternate Theory
There is one final thought, and it is along the lines of American Psycho. No matter the crime, nobody seems to notice Jack going about doing it. Be it dragging bodies, carrying them around, or confessing. The circumstances always favour Jack allowing him to get away, no matter how sloppy he gets. This could point to a theory that he’s actually not committing any murders. He only imagines them and progressively gets crazier and, possibly, freezes to death alone inside his cold storage.
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Barry is a technologist who helps start-ups build successful products. His love for movies and production has led him to write his well-received film explanation and analysis articles to help everyone appreciate the films better. He’s regularly available for a chat conversation on his website and consults on storyboarding from time to time.
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