By Adam Nayman
Where Lars von Trier once stood in front of his goofy hospital Gothic—literally appearing onscreen in a tuxedo during each episode’s end credits to recap the action and flash his shit-eating, Danish-scum-of-the-earth grin—Exodus finds him stepping into the background. Casting himself wizard-like as the proverbial man behind the curtain (aka The Boss of It All) and leaning into the same narcissistic self-deprecation that’s defined his spectacularly, productively obnoxious career and persona, all that’s visible of our hero are his shoes—a challenge, perhaps, for somebody else to try to fill them.
Von Trier, who is struggling with a recent diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease, explains via his (mostly) disembodied voiceover that his decision was motivated by vanity, and in doing so, places himself on the same continuum as The Kingdom’s characters, be they recurring, brand-new, or somewhere in between. The concept of a state-of-the-art socialized medical centre as a crucible of human foibles—and a subterranean locus of demonic supernatural activity—remains funny, trenchant, and bizarrely sociologically apt 30 years after the fact, and no less than You-Know-What (from which Von Trier draws no small amount of inspiration, Lynchian and otherwise) Exodus’ return to the primal prime-time scene after several decades works simultaneously as fan service, brand extension, genre satire, and annotated auteurist victory lap—not to mention as a cudgel in the ongoing battle between Denmark and Sweden for intra-Scandinavian cultural supremacy. (An early all-staff drinking game pitting Dreyer dialectically against Bergman gets the biggest of many big laughs in the first two installments, followed closely by sight gags involving IKEA and Volvo). Kudos are due to cinematographer Manuel Alberto Claro for perfectly replicating the original’s dingy, enamel-tinted aesthetic, and to the flawlessly dyspeptic ensemble, including friend-of-the-family-slash-millennial ringer Alexander Skarsgård, whose cameo as the only Swedish lawyer in town (working, like his father before him, from an office in a men’s room stall) registers in the surrounding semi-valedictory context as sweetly moving. Be well, Lars.