Film review by: Witney Seibold

Antichrist 1


I think the handle one needs to understand Lars von Trier’s new provocation “Antichrist,” is to realize that he was suffering from severe depression while making it. In interviews, von Trier has said that he made “Antichrist” as a form of (ultimately unsuccessful) therapy, and all the horrific concepts and images in his film spring from that struggle.




“Antichrist” is a sickening, provocative, beautiful abyss of hopelessness. While it’s no picnic to sit through, it’s nice to see an adult horror film that holds the convictions of its nihilism, as opposed to those torture films for kids that seem to be popping up so frequently. I’m not sure if I can openly recommend this film to anyone, as it is so harrowing and brutal, but I cannot dismiss it either, as the power of its violent images and the strength of its ideas are so overwhelming. That the film is beautifully shot, and that von Trier got such wonderfully brave performances from his two actors only complicates the issue.





Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg (credited as only “He” and “She”) play a married couple whose young son recently tumbled out an open window while they were busy having sex. She plunges into a near-psychotic pit of guilt. He is aloof and has a professional view of his feelings; he is a psychotherapist, you see. Rather than working through their guilt in a healthy way, He begins to analyze her, in order to get her to give names to her guilt. This transmutates into a free-flowing exploration of all her fears, and the couple goes on a retreat to their cabin, nicknamed Eden, to explore said fears in detail.





Time is out of joint. She is deathly afraid of all things natural. He begins having… are they dreams?… of violent animals, including a deer that runs while giving birth, and a fox that talks and feeds on its own entrails. The cabin is being constantly pelted with acorns, which fall like rain. He analyzes her further, and She is increasingly uncooperative.



Antichrist Gainsbourg


The talks eventually lead to ancient concepts of misogyny, Satan, and the nature of evil (and the evil of nature). The film’s third act is an explosion of torture and sexual violence that is shocking and horrific. There is open damage done to human genitals in “Antichrist” that is rendered in slow-motion close-up detail. Most people will not have the stomach for these later scenes.




Von Trier has always been a dogged provocateur, insisting on keeping film on the edge of its capabilities. He was the one who founded the Dogme project back in 1998, a rigidly guidelined movement that attempted to bring artistic purity back to cinema  . He challenged one of his favorite filmmakers to remake  short film with a series of artistic restriction in “The Five Obstructions.” With “Dogville” and “Manderlay,” he not only incorporated a bold artistic move by exorcizing his physical sets, but made some powerful comments on the fallacy of Christian gentleness and the tenets of American openness. “Antichrist” is his most difficult film to date, and is in keeping with his spirit of taking his audiences to new places.




That said, “Antichrist” does suffer from a lack of focus. All of von Trier’s symptoms of depression are included: a mistrust of arrogant therapists (how can a therapist really understand what you’re going trough?), a fear of the natural world, an inextricable connection between sex and death, the horrors of the human sex drive, and an exploration of misogyny (Von Trier has been accused of misogyny before, and, I think, “Antichrist” is a reaction to that; I don’t think he is necessarily a misogynist). And while the images are powerful, and the concepts make autonomous sense, the connections between them are unclear. I understand his look at grief, at despair, at sexual violence, but I don’t see how one theme segues into another.




This lack of connective tissue may really bother some people, and force them to accuse von Trier of making a schlocky shock film; Indeed, some people have exited the theater after “Antichrist” overwhelmed by the images, and disturbed by the lack of central narrative thrust, feeling the film is an abstract musing on disgusting, horrific human behavior.




This is clearly not an exploitation movie, however. This is a film about the depth of human sadness, a lack of hope, and the internalization of mad hate that becomes a festering self-hatred.



Like I said, no picnic.


Antichrist shower

Published in: on October 29, 2009 at 9:37 am  Leave a Comment  

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