The Five Obstructions

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The Five Obstructions
The Five Obstructions.jpg
Directed byLars von Trier
Jørgen Leth
Written byLars von Trier
Jørgen Leth
Based onThe Perfect Human by Jørgen Leth
Produced byCarsten Holst
StarringLars von Trier
Jørgen Leth
Claus Nissen
Daniel Hernandez Rodriguez
Patrick Bauchau
Distributed byZentropa Real ApS
Wajnbrosse Productions
Koch-Lorber Films
Release dates
Running time
90 minutes

The Five Obstructions is a 2003 Danish documentary film directed by Lars von Trier and Jørgen Leth. The film is conceived as a documentary, but incorporates lengthy sections of experimental films produced by the filmmakers.[1] The premise is that von Trier has created a challenge for his friend and mentor, Jørgen Leth, another renowned filmmaker.[2] Lars von Trier's favorite film is Leth's The Perfect Human, and von Trier gives Leth the task of remaking The Perfect Human five times, each time with a different "obstruction" (or obstacle) imposed by von Trier.[3]

It has been said that "Both this film and Dogville show a more mature von Trier, one who is more aware of and accountable to the full implications of the torture, suffering and victimization he has employed in his films, especially in exploring how easily those who victimize others in the name of righteousness become victims [of] their own self-righteousness."[4]

The obstructions[edit]

  1. Leth must remake the film in Cuba,[5] with no set, and with no shot lasting longer than twelve frames, and he must answer the questions posed in the original film; Leth successfully completes this task.[6][7]
  2. Leth must remake the film in the worst place in the world[5] but not show that place onscreen;[8] additionally, Leth must himself play the role of "the man". The meal must be included,[9] but the woman is not to be included. Leth remakes the film in the red light district of Mumbai,[6] only partially hiding it behind a translucent screen.
  3. Because Leth failed to complete the second task perfectly,[10] von Trier punishes him, telling him to either remake the film in any way he chooses,[7] or else to repeat it again with the second obstruction in Mumbai. Leth chooses the first option and remakes the film in Brussels, using split-screen effects.[7][11]
  4. Leth must remake the film as a cartoon.[5] He does so with the aid of Bob Sabiston, a specialist in rotoscoping, who creates animated versions of shots from the previous films.[6] As such the final product is technically an animation but not a cartoon. Nevertheless, von Trier considers the task to be completed successfully.
  5. The fifth obstruction is that von Trier has already made the fifth version, but it must be credited as Leth's, and Leth must read a voice-over narration,[12] ostensibly from his own perspective but in fact one written by von Trier.[7]

Collaboration with Martin Scorsese[edit]

In 2010 Variety reported rumors that Lars von Trier, Martin Scorsese, and Robert De Niro planned to work on a remake of Scorsese's film Taxi Driver with the film made with same restrictions as were used in The Five Obstructions.[13] In 2014 Paul Schrader, the screenwriter for Taxi Driver said that it was not being made. He said, "It was a terrible idea" and "in Marty's mind, it never was something that should be done."[14]


The Five Obstructions received strongly positive reviews from critics. It holds a 79/100 on Metacritic,[15] and Rotten Tomatoes reports 88% approval among 59 critics.[16] It was later voted one of the 30 best films of the 2000s in a poll for Sight & Sound.[17]


  1. ^ Verrone, William (23 May 2013). Adaptation and the Avant-Garde.Alternative Perspectives on Adaptation Theory and Practice. Bloomsbury Academic. ISBN 9781623562885. Retrieved 6 April 2020.
  2. ^ Collin, Robbie (9 May 2019). "Destination Wedding review: Keanu and Winona's romcom chemistry lesson doesn't quite ring true". The Telegraph. Retrieved 6 April 2020.
  3. ^ A. O. Scott (26 May 2004). "The Five Obstructions (2003) | Movie Review; A Cinematic Duel of Wits For Two Danish Directors". The New York Times. Retrieved 15 June 2015.
  4. ^ "Screening Log – 5/31–6/06, 2004". Also Like Life. 6 June 2004. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 14 June 2015.
  5. ^ a b c "Five Obstructions humiliate Perfect Human". the Guardian. 30 August 2003. Retrieved 6 April 2020.
  6. ^ a b c Scott, A. O. (26 May 2004). "FILM REVIEW; A Cinematic Duel of Wits For Two Danish Directors". The New York Times. Retrieved 6 April 2020.
  7. ^ a b c d Romney, Jonathan (9 November 2003). "The Five Obstructions". The Independent. Archived from the original on 18 June 2022. Retrieved 6 April 2020.
  8. ^ Pratt, Geraldine (23 June 2014). Film and Urban Space. Edinburgh University Press. p. 8. ISBN 9780748623846. Retrieved 6 April 2020.
  9. ^ Moore, Anne Elizabeth (18 January 2019). "The House That Jack Built is Lars von Trier's way of showing how much he loves women". Chicago Reader. Retrieved 6 April 2020.
  10. ^ Straten-McSparran, Rebecca Ver. "The Five Obstructions". Image Journal. Retrieved 6 April 2020.
  11. ^ Ogden, Benjamin (30 November 2009). "How Lars von Trier Sees the World: Postmodernism and Globalization in The Five Obstructions". Quarterly Review of Film and Video. 27: 54–68. doi:10.1080/10509200802241381. S2CID 191555832.
  12. ^ Maoilearca, John Ó (September 2015). "All Thoughts Are Equal". University of Minnesota Press. Retrieved 6 April 2020.
  13. ^ Steve Barton (16 February 2010). "Lars von Trier, Robert De Niro, and Martin Scorsese Collaborating on New Taxi Driver". Dread Central. Retrieved 24 February 2010.
  14. ^ Dan Selcke (19 February 2014). "Taxi Driver will not be remade by Lars Von Trier, if anyone was worried". The A.V. Club. Retrieved 8 July 2016.
  15. ^ "The Five Obstructions Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved 14 December 2016.
  16. ^ "The Five Obstructions (2003)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 14 December 2016.
  17. ^ "Sight & Sound's films of the decade". British Film Institute. Archived from the original on 2 August 2012. Retrieved 14 December 2016.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]