What is a Perfect Human?

Lars Von Trier tortures his personal hero, Jørgen Leth, in The Five Obstructions challenging him to recreate his 1967 short film, The Perfect Human, in five different ways. Throughout the film, Von Trier presented five different ways of obstructing his favorite film describing it as a masterpiece already, and should only be subjected to getting “ruined.” Leth agreed at the beginning saying a a good perversion can cultivate but soon found himself suffering over the impish rules Von Trier had set out for him to follow. Both The Perfect Human and The Five Obstructions itself are pieces completely unknown to me previously that I was confronted by this film completely free of any presuppositions on how it was going to be. I was completely glad that that was the case because prior to that I haven’t had a movie-viewing experience like that in so long wherein I anticipated every second intrigued on how the film would play out. At first I found Von Trier condescending and couldn’t stomach the self-righteous way of speaking he was using towards his supposed “hero”. But the more I watched, the more I came to admire the way he was only challenging Leth’s creativity by daring him to rethink a work already so familiar with him, and even one that he’s already satisfied with. The film formulates the question of whether rules restrict creativity, or simply enhance it begetting the individual to think innovatively within the walls of his or her limitations. This was especially shone light upon during the third obstruction when Leth was asked to make a film completely free of restrictions. It rendered the question, is it harder to work with following a list of constraints, or is it necessary for creation? Although both circumstances, whether with limitations or without, Leth was still able to create crafts so beautifully, I felt that he was learning more and more from each obstruction.  He grew each time he reinvented his magnum opus, proving that our best works could still be challenged, and should be challenged. It is the only way we can grow without playing victim of being too satisfied with ourselves hindering expansion of our art.

Jørgen Leth

Regarding creative decisions made throughout the film, I was completely impressed with the idea of using the transparent screen in Bombay for the second obstruction despite Von Trier disliking it. I think it emphasized the merging of the perfect human with the real world. The concrete reality were the people framed behind the screen and the perfect human was not completely out-of-reach from them, but just on the other side. It supports Von Trier’s desire for this film to minimize the distance between the perfect and what is truly human. Another factor that I loved from this film was how, even if there was tension between the two characters, it was hard not to agree with both of them. Von Trier wanted to challenge Leth to create a “crappy” work and told him that he’s already a genius, so he shouldn’t be satisfied with that and forever be in competition with himself, he should seek beyond and receive “therapy”. However, Leth found this completely impossible saying, “We can’t help becoming instinctively involved looking for a solution that would satisfy us” pertaining to his decisions concerning his craft. I think it’s a poetic parallel of life and how sometimes, despite our desire to let go of wanting to be perfect, it’s in our very human nature to look for the perfect, and that is just what simply is human. The film concludes with the fifth obstruction requiring Leth to give his name to Von Trier completely and allow him to be the one responsible for creating the final short. I was completely aghast with that request wondering how it would ever be possible for someone to completely let go of their work and pass it onto someone releasing all proprietorship over it. But it made me realize that that is what art entails us, to learn how to completely let go. Because once we’ve released a craft that came from our own ideas our own inspirations and release it into the real world, it no longer belongs to us but to the world. Because no matter what, beauty is always determined by the beholder.

Moreover, the movie was more than a study on creativity, but a study on the person himself. From how far he’s willing to go for the sake of creation, to the degree of perversion he could endure that could separate him from his idea of art and himself. Because even with his resistance to being dull and obsession with being “perfect,” Leth is just delivering what it means to be human. The film wanted to study the bridge between perfect and human and Leth is a perfect example of someone bridging that gap.

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