The Idiots

This article is about the Danish film. For similar titles, see The Idiot (disambiguation).
The Idiots

Danish release poster
Directed by Lars von Trier
Produced by Vibeke Windeløv
Written by Lars von Trier
Cinematography Lars von Trier
Edited by Molly Malene Stensgaard
Distributed by October Films
Release dates
  • 20 May 1998 (1998-05-20) (Cannes)
  • 17 July 1998 (1998-07-17) (Denmark)
  • 27 August 1998 (1998-08-27) (Netherlands)
  • 4 September 1998 (1998-09-04) (Sweden)
  • 8 January 1999 (1999-01-08) (Spain)
Running time
114 minutes[1]
  • Denmark
  • France
  • Italy
  • Netherlands
  • Spain
  • Sweden
Language Danish
Budget USD$2.5 million
Box office $7,235[2]

The Idiots (Danish: Idioterne) is a 1998 Danish comedy-drama film written and directed by Lars von Trier. It is his first film made in compliance with the Dogme 95 Manifesto, and is also known as Dogme #2. It is the second film in von Trier's Golden Heart Trilogy, preceded by Breaking the Waves (1996) and succeeded by Dancer in the Dark (2000). It is among the first films to be shot entirely with digital cameras.


A seemingly anti-bourgeois group of adults spend their time seeking their "inner idiot" to release their inhibitions. They do so by behaving in public as if they were developmentally disabled.

At a restaurant, patrons are disturbed by the group's mischief, but single diner Karen develops an appreciation of their antics. The members of the group refer to this behaviour as "spassing", a neologism derived from "spasser", the Danish equivalent of "spaz" and an offensive slur. Karen takes a ride in a taxi cab with the people from the restaurant, and she finds herself at a big house. The apparent leader of the group, Stoffer, is supposed to be selling the house (which belongs to his uncle), but instead it becomes the focal point for group activities.

The "spassing" is a self-defeating attempt by the group to challenge the establishment through provocation. The self-styled idiots feel that the society-at-large treats their intelligence uncreatively and unchallengingly; thus, they seek the uninhibited self-expression that they imagine a romantic ideal of disability will allow.

Stoffer, at his birthday party, wishes for a "gangbang", and both clothes and inhibitions are soon discarded. Then when Stoffer calls for the group members to let idiocy invade their personal daily lives, Karen takes up the challenge. She takes Susanne back to her house, where they are greeted by surprise by Karen's mother. Karen had been missing for two weeks, following the death of her young baby; she offers no explanation of where she has been. Karen attempts to spaz in front of her family by dribbling the food she is eating, but this results in a violent slap from her husband, Anders. Karen and Susanne leave the house.



The Idiots is a co-production of companies from Denmark, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and Sweden.

Breaches of Dogme 95 rules

The confession of a Dogme 95 film is an idea adapted by Thomas Vinterberg in the first Dogme 95 film: Make a confession if there were things happening on the shoot which are not in accordance with the strict interpretation of the Dogme 95 rules. It is written from the director's point of view. Accordingly, von Trier made the following confession:

In relation to the production of Dogme 2 "The Idiots", I confess:
  • To have used a stand-in in one case only (the sexual intercourse scene).
  • To have organised payment of cash to the actors for shopping of accessories (food).
  • To have intervened with the location (by moving sources of light – candlelight – to achieve exposure).
  • To have been aware of the fact that the production had entered into an agreement of leasing a car (without the knowledge of the involved actor).
All in all, and apart from the above, I feel to have lived up to the intentions and rules of the manifesto: Dogme95.[3]

In order to not violate Dogme 95 rule 2, forbidding the use of non-diegetic music, a harmonica player was recorded during the shooting of some scenes, including the end credits, even if he is not seen onscreen.[4]


The Idiots provoked a storm of publicity and debates, one of which was about the fictional representation of disability.[5] Film critic Mark Kermode's reaction was to shout "Il est merde! Il est merde! (sic)" from the back of the auditorium during the official screening of the film at Cannes, a spontaneous review for which he was ejected from the venue.[6]

Channel 4 aired the film unedited in 2005 as part of the channel's "Banned" season exploring censorship and cinematic works. Viewer complaints prompted an Ofcom investigation,[7] which came out in favour of Channel 4.[5] In its ruling, Ofcom found the film "not in breach" of the relevant Code under the specific circumstances of the broadcast, that is "the serious contextualisation of the film within a season examining the censorship of film and television, its artistic purpose, the channel which transmitted it, the strong warnings before the film and prior to the scene in question and the scheduling after midnight."[8] Ofcom added the caveat that, "While we do not consider the film was in breach of the Code on this occasion, we must consider carefully the acceptability of any similar content on an individual basis."[8]

The film is classified as adult-only in Argentina, Australia (though it has been shown uncut on TV with an MA rating), Chile, New Zealand, Norway, South Korea, Spain, Taiwan, and the United Kingdom. In Switzerland and Germany, the film ran uncut with a 16-years rating in theaters, followed by a DVD release with the same rating and several uncut television airings.

Critical reception

On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a 70% score based on 30 reviews, with an average rating of 6.5/10.[9] Metacritic reports a 47 out of 100 rating based on 15 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[10]

The Idiots was ranked #76 in Empire magazine's "The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema" in 2010.[11] The magazine had previously given it a full five star rating on its release in UK cinemas. It is listed as #941 in the film reference book '1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die'.


More controversy arose over the sexual content, which was unusually explicit for a narrative film. The Idiots contains a shower scene in which a member of the group (in character as an "idiot") has an erection and, later, a group sex scene that includes one couple (faces not seen, stand-ins from the porn industry[12]) having unsimulated penetrative (vaginal) sexual intercourse. Both instances of explicit content are in view only for a few seconds. The film was cleared for theatrical release by the British Board of Film Classification, receiving an 18 certificate.[13] When it was shown on Film4 (then FilmFour) in 2000, the erection and the intercourse were obscured by pixelization, following an order from the Independent Television Commission.[14][15]


The film was shown in competition at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival.


  1. "THE IDIOTS (18)". British Board of Film Classification. 1999-02-15. Retrieved 2013-05-25.
  2. "The Idiots". The Numbers. Retrieved 24 March 2015.
  3. von Trier, Lars (1998). Dogme 2, Idioterne: manuskript og dagbog (in Danish). Gyldendal. ISBN 978-87-00-34238-5. Retrieved 15 October 2010.
  4. Interview of Lars von Trier in the bonus features of the DVD
  5. 1 2 Farey-Jones, Daniel (24 May 2005). "Channel 4 avoids action on complaints about Idiots orgy". Brand Republic. Haymarket Media Group.
  6. Kermode, Mark (13 May 2002). "Why I hate Cannes". BBC News. Retrieved 2009-05-23.
  7. Barnes, Anthony (13 March 2005). "Channel 4 faces investigation for breaking last sexual taboo on TV]". Independent on Sunday.
  8. 1 2 "The Idiots; Channel 4, 7 March 2005, 00:05" (PDF). Ofcom broadcast bulletin 35. 23 May 2005. pp. 8–9.
  9. "The Idiots (Idioterne) (Dogma 95) (2000)". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved 15 February 2016.
  10. "The Idiots reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved 15 February 2016.
  11. 1 2 "The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema: 76. The Idiots". Empire. Retrieved 2011-01-02.
  12. van der Vliet, Emma. "Naked film: stripping with The Idiots". Retrieved 18 May 2015.
  13. Williams, Rhys (17 February 1999). "Group sex film passed by censor". The Independent. Retrieved 28 August 2010.
  14. "Explicit art film to run on British movie channel]". Studio Briefing. 27 April 2000.
  15. Turner, Mimi (28 April 2000). "ITC orders cuts to FilmFour's 'Idiots' airing". The Hollywood Reporter.
  16. "Idioterne". Festival Archives. Festival de Cannes. Retrieved 2009-09-30.
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