A detective plagued by headaches goes to a hypnotist and relives his investigation into a serial killer case in Lars von Trier's first feature, The Element of Crime. Fisher (Michael Elphick), a retired policeman, returns to Europe at the behest of his mentor, Osborne (Esmond Knight of The Red Shoes).
Osborne, the author of an influential textbook called The Element of Crime, has given up his investigation into the Lotto Murders, in which a number of lottery ticket salesgirls have been killed and mutilated.
The new chief of police, Kramer (former Benny Hill Show regular Jerold Wells), is a trigger-happy lunatic who objects to Fisher's methodical approach to crime solving. Osborne, meanwhile, seemingly losing his grip on reality, insists that the killer, Harry Grey, died in a car crash.
Using Osborne's methods, Fisher tries to delve into the mind of Grey by following the path of a trip the killer took three years earlier, while Osborne was investigating him. Along the way, Fisher hooks up with a prostitute, Kim (Me Me Lai), who also has a link to Grey.
As he gets closer to unraveling the mystery, Fisher finds himself taking on more and more aspects of the killer's persona. Von Trier uses a traditional film noir style voice-over, while visually, his film is a monochromatic sepia tone with occasional flashes of fluorescent blue.
This film brought von Trier international attention, paving the way for his success with Zentropa and The Kingdom.