1994, NR, 270 min. Directed by Lars Von Trier. Starring Ernst-Hugo Järegard, Kirsten Rolffes, Ghita Norby, Soren Pilmark, Holger Juul Hansen, Annevig Schelde Ebbe.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Jan. 19, 1996
Originally created for Danish television, this four-and-a-half hour epic from von Trier (Zentropa) is a sumptuous feast of the sublime and the bizarre, both darkly comic and deeply disturbing. (It will be screened here theatrically in two parts.) Set in a huge Danish hospital (nicknamed “the Kingdom” for its epic scale), von Trier mixes the occult with TV melodrama along the lines of E.R. to create a whole new breed of story. It's the General Hospital in Twin Peaks with a bit of Jorg Buttgereit thrown in for good measure. Famed Swedish actor Järegard is Dr. Helmer, a none-too-brilliant neurosurgeon brought in to head up the department with dire results for both his patients and the hospital in general. Working alongside this bitter, Dane-hating butcher is a bizarre assortment of dysfunctional doctors, nurses, and patients, including young Mogge (Peter Mygind), the dimwitted son of the hospital's director; Bondo (Pilmark), a physician obsessed with his research to the point of madness; a pair of Down's syndrome-afflicted dishwashers who act as an unnerving Greek chorus; and the trapped spirit of a long-dead child crying plaintively from the elevator shafts night after night. It's this last phantasmic character that catches the attention of borderline psychic and "malingerer" Mrs. Drusse (Rolffes), an aged Miss Marple-type who sets the hospital's infernal wheels in motion. As a director, von Trier has always been interested in skewing audiences' perceptions through cinematic trickery. Zentropa whisked viewers back and forth through a patently nonlinear story line, and The Kingdom is no exception to the director's rule either. Here, he and cinematographer Eric Kress manipulate the film stock to give the picture a dim, sepia-toned glow, as if the screen were being viewed through an ages-old shroud or with dismal cataracts. It's a strangely disorienting experience, especially given the length of the film. While The Kingdom tends to bog down in parts, it manages to keep the whiplash pace of television for most of its running time: New characters are constantly introduced and multiple story lines diverge and collide with alarming frequency. Like some hellish television show from beyond the pale, The Kingdom is anything but normal. Everything about this film seems slightly surreal, slightly out of sync with reality; it's less a hospital drama than some sort of haunted amusement ride, with ingenious shocks around every corner and secrets buried a mile deep.