A Review of Lar's von Trier's Antichrist

I made my dislike of the Dogme 95 quite clear in my Dancer in the Dark review.  Movements are not started by planning; well, except Dadaism, but that was more a group of people getting together and deciding to do the exact opposite of everything else.  Von Trier is largely to blame for this movement and here I am reviewing him again. In addition, this was a film that was heckled at its premier to the point where they gave it an anti-award.  I disagree with the decision (it was an endorsement of censorship) but such awards certainly do not bode well.

However, I surprisingly liked Antichrist. Despite its hideous violence, it did work. It successfully explored a psyche that is collapsing and the fearsome revenge that callousness can lead to.

The film opens with a couple (Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg) making passionate love.  During this, their infant son escapes his crib and accidentally falls to his death from their window.  The woman, She (the couple are never given names.  IMDB just lists their characters as being He and She) goes into a deep depression.  He is a therapist who decides to cure her despite not understanding all of her afflictions.  They go to Eden (a cabin in the woods that they own) where she is apparently the most afraid.  She goes slowly psychotic and, as He was unable to properly “cure” her, takes a fearsome revenge that includes 1) destroying his sex organs 2) driving a millstone through his leg 3) burying him alive 4) destroying her own sex organs and 5) forcing him to kill her, leaving him alone.

There have been a lot of interpretations on the treatment of women and men. The fact that it is open to interpretation is part of its strength.  I do feel that the film is a revenge tale, in which the woman takes revenge on the man for not understanding her needs and her pain.  She has lost something she truly loved.  She was already going mad to begin with – her thesis was on witchcraft and she began to feel that she was evil.  The loss of her son – which the film hints she could have prevented – sends her right over the edge.  Yet he never understands it.  He believes her just to be anxious and that he can cure her.  So, for not understanding the loss, she punishes him by destroying everything he loves.  He destroys his penis (to make sure he never can have children again) destroys her clitoris (he still loves her – she wants to make sure she can never feel him again) and then forces him to destroy her completely – leaving him with no loves.

So, yes, the violence is necessary and does have a point.  That is why it is not gratuitous.  I am not sure why people criticize into some sort of devolution into exploitation.  Violence in that regard means that it is for its own sake.  And this is a psychological horror piece.  It is meant to be about the destruction of the psyche. Sometimes, such items have to be shown physically in order to get the point across. It is also not all violent.  Some of the images in the first act (including one dream sequence in which Gainsbourg becomes a part of nature) are quite beautiful.  It serves to help contrast what we will eventually see.

And it does so.  The performances are quite good – Gainsbourg’s Cannes award was well deserved.  She is a complete psychopath at the end, but it is easy to see her progression. Dafoe is static, but he is meant to be.  He tries to comprehend what is happening to his wife, but cannot.  Yet he never quits, even when it costs him everything.  Plus, considering the physical effects, Dafoe does well in making them convincing.  You try moving with a massive weight tied to your leg.

Finally, I am pleased to see that Lars von Trier has grown out of the Dogme 95 movement.  The time has definitely passed.  Trier makes a much more conventional picture.  Am I praising convention over experimentation?  Yes, because in this case the experiment was a pretentious one that offered nothing but distraction.  Who cares if the rules are being followed- isn’t experimentation about being free rather than constrained?  von Trier finally understands this and is a better filmmaker for it.  I cannot believe I am saying this, but I cannot wait to see what he does next.

And remember – chaos reigns.

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