Of course, it’s like another television phenomenon. Von Trier admitted that “The Kingdom” was inspired by “Twin Peaks,” and one has to wonder if “Exodus” would exist without the creative success of 2017’s “Twin Peaks: The Return.” Revisited characters and distorted imagery from his landmark series, Von Trier returns to some of the same characters and ideas, once again creating a truly inspired blend of surreal and comedy. The hospital where every scene in the show takes place is not only a place of ancient supernatural forces that might rise to eventually drag him down into the earth, but it’s also a place of truly mundane idiocy, a building which is as burdened with bureaucracy and stupidity as much as it is the evil that might be buried in its foundation.
What is “The Kingdom” about? Well, this is where things get tricky. It’s the kind of over-the-top universe where a woman can give birth to Udo Kier wrapped in a form that sometimes looks like a traditional medical soap opera, but most of the doctors here are self-absorbed idiots. “Exodus” actually opens with a woman named Karen (Bodil Jørgensen) finishing a viewing of the first series and going to the hospital to see what’s going on there for herself. She finds more questions than answers, including a real beating heart from the hospital and the giant head of Udo Kier, drowning in tears. Alexander Skarsgard takes his father’s place in a very amusing twist as a lawyer whose office is on the toilet and Willem Dafoe appears as a shapeshifting man who could actually be Satan. It’s a lot. And that’s only scratching the surface.
It’s really, really hard to do the “plot synopsis” part of a review of something like “The Kingdom Exodus.” While there are technically multiple competing subplots and a dense mythology, the plot doesn’t matter as much as the mood here. It’s a show that has cumulative power in its moments – whether it’s a quirky little comedic beat like the head doctor complaining that his solitary computer is too easy (not knowing that the computer already has its difficulty set at 4-8 years old) or the terrifying image of an aggressively violent doctor poking out his eye with a spoon (only for him to return to normal the next time we see him). “The Kingdom Exodus” sometimes feels like its competing tones and subplots are at war with each other – the whiplash of the broad farce of a broken system with the more terrifying Lynchian elements of a woman exploring the spiritual basement of the hospital can be intense – but it’s very intentional. Hospitals are places of extreme emotion where tragedy can exist in a room alongside miraculous healing. And Von Trier has often toyed with broad tonal shifts with dark comedy throughout much of his filmography. The extremes of his tastes just find a perfect setting in Kingdom Hospital.